Season Recap from a mid-life crisis

So it's weird that I went to Wyoming for a summer to coach for a 5-week tennis season. But that's precisely what I did. My logic was mostly that I needed a change of scenery. I thought -- mistakenly -- that going back to a place that'd treated me well for many years would be like a bit of a homecoming. Instead, it was like a time warp and a recognition that you can't bottle up the past and spread it on the table like a board game.

Seeing old haunts, experiencing many of the same things I'd done a decade or so earlier was so surreal. None of the same familiar faces were around, places I'd once frequented either felt strangely out of place, or not quite the same. Most of all, it was hard to live in this universe and do so alone. There were people around, but it felt weird to reach out. And most of them were in Colorado and unfortunately, I spent the bulk of my time in Wyoming.

Coaching a boys & girls varsity tennis team at the same time isn't ideal. It's better to keep the teams separate or else, they just get distracted. Also, the combined efforts means that it's harder to get kids to buy into what you're selling because there are just more people to deter them from hearing what you're saying. What was also difficult, is not only not having any real continuity, but having people actively subverting your efforts throughout the year. A local tennis pro was also the head coach at another local high school. Because he coaches all of the players on my team privately, he would actively poison the well because I'd play kids in spots he wouldn't have or because I didn't ask for his advice on how to do something. (Mind you, he never offered it. But he shouldn't, he's a rival coach for high school purposes.)

The parents were also difficult. There were a majority who were extremely supportive, kind, and willing to do anything. But there was a minority cadre who just never appreciated what was really happening; a State Coach of the Year from a much bigger place had a mid-life crisis and decided to essentially volunteer to coach kids in a community he hadn't lived in for a decade. This is laudable stuff, even if you're not vibing with what's happening. But instead, these folks would dole out mostly scorn and sometimes, outright disrespect.

It was a good experience, though. Between the lines, I learned how to manage a hornets nest. It took probably half the season before I realized I just had to trust my own instincts and do whatever I wanted to. I reminded myself that not only did many of the people in my life have no idea I was doing this, but the fact that I was there in no way actually mattered all that much to anyone in the "real world" where I was headed back to. This freed me to just exist as myself, to make decisions, and to coach a lot freer than I had been earlier.

Knowing my worth and demonstrating my confidence was for many people, a revelation. It was apparently at all times that I had a frame of mind for what we were doing. Sometimes, it'd work. Other times, I'd overcook things a bit. Part of taking over a new team anywhere is that it takes time for people to get what you're selling. The first season is always the hardest. Taking over bad teams isn't as big a deal -- no one is expecting anything -- but when the teams have had success, you're kind of trying to figure out how to capture lightning in a bottle. It takes assembling both talent, resources and belief. You also just need timing on your side.

The biggest takeaway is that if I ever decide to coach again in a new place, I'll be a lot more prepared for how to approach the job than I was this time. I'd gotten comfortable going from a bad large school boys team that overperformed, to one of the best teams in the state for small-school girls tennis in Oregon. I've also learned in the past few years that I just prefer coaching girls versus boys. If you'd asked me that question before 2019, I'd have said the opposite. My only other experience coaching girls was at a summer camp and one season coaching JV girls tennis, which was also better than the boys season that year.

The girls listen, there's generally less drama if there are good kids -- or you rid yourself of the people who cause it -- and they seemed to care more and really appreciate feedback and advice. Boys do too, but there's just been more variability in my experience coaching boys. It helps that my girls teams have just always been good and boys teams have been less good.

All in all, I managed to engineer a team that was expected to be bad into two of the best teams in the state. The boys team finished 3rd in their Region, which was completely unexpected. It happened because I made two controversial lineup changes the day before Regionals, knowing it was going to cause a lot of consternation. It simply would not have worked had we not done it, though. The girls team won the Regional title in dominant fashion, despite losing to the 2nd place team in the regular season head-to-head matchup. This was largely a different roster, each team only brought back 3 varsity returnees from the previous year. Most tennis coaches don't change their lineup all season, I do this all the time. In Oregon it's not controversial, but in Wyoming people were not always charitable about it.

I've coached 4 years and 3 seasons (thanks covid) of girls HS tennis, my girls teams have 3 Regional or District Championships, 3 League/Conference Championships and 7-3 in individual singles/doubles finals. All 5 of the entries made the Regional Finals during my Wyoming year, in Oregon, we've won the singles & doubles title at Districts both years I've been the head coach -- that'd never been done in our district before (on the girls side) since it was formed around 2008. This year, we played ourselves for the singles title, even. 

I've coached 8 Regional/District champions in 3 years, 2 state finalists and an individual state champion. Coaching two teams out west for 5 weeks, did help my career record though. I'm now 43-18-1 in 4 seasons as a head coach. I'll get my 50th career win this spring, which will be pretty neat. 

Best of all, I realized what I needed to move forward beyond tennis after this summer. Even coming home made me appreciate what I had more, but it also made me recognize more of what I wanted. That part of the story is still to be written. 
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Funny what you said about the girls, though, it matches my limited experience from intramural co-ed soccer. I remember playing keeper and we kept getting burned on the right side. The girl at right back didn't have tons of experience, but she was a hustler. When I told her to just stick to the guy, especially after he passed the ball, good things started happening - she got in his way non-stop, chased him down, didn't give up. Very few guys listen to this type of advice. I noticed this in almost every game; girls will stick to a plan and work hard to do their best, guys will eventually lose their heads or just not give a shit. 

2022-11-08 00:56:42

A compendium of stuff I don't want to forget