Coaching tennis has been a good gig

Tennis is a game that is easy to love, if you?ll pardon the pun. Sure, some other sports?cross country and golf, for example?are also more individual than team competitions.

Cross country is aerobic and calls for endurance, but requires little in the way of hand-eye coordination, however. Golfers certainly need specialized skills, but the conditioning benefits are minimal.

Tennis is a nice combination of quickness, coordination and concentration. Really good players are a joy to watch. Decent players can put on a great show. Even unskilled racquet handlers can pull off some amazing shots at times.

Best of all, tennis is a lifetime game that can be played at virtually any age from toddler on up.

I have been head girls? coach at Hillsboro High School for two years. I was assistant for several more before that. I have always said it is the best coaching gig in town. The season starts in mid-August and wraps up in early October. And, I get to play nearly every day.

The game keeps me young, and instructing young players fine tunes my hitting skills. Just try feeding balls to a girls? backhand side over and over for 10 minutes. I have to be super accurate to give my players the repetition they need.

It?s not like I am ever going to go on the pro tour or anything. It?s just that I have to be good enough to slug it out with my top players from time to time.

Another aspect of tennis I really like is the honesty required. True, golfers need a certain degree of integrity to play the game correctly, but where else can you find state-caliber athletes who call their own lines and keep their own scores.

Only when specifically requested are line judges assigned by tournament directors. It is a rare occurrence at best. Sometimes disputes crop up, but the girls generally solve them without adult assistance. In fact, coaches and spectators are prohibited by rule from intervening, even if asked by players.

In addition, blatant displays of anger and frustration can result in points being taken away by the tournament director. Something as simple as tossing a racquet can lead to discipline.

Again, rarely, if ever, have I seen this happen, and if tempers get the best of the girls, they are usually remorseful and apologize to whomever their antics may have offended.

The weather this year was amazing. Up until regionals this past weekend, we enjoyed moderate temperatures and calm winds for the most part. We had one event where the mercury rose into the upper 80s, but the evening quickly cooled.

I can only recall one day of practice where the heat index crested above 100 degrees. I remember the girls complaining a bit that day. I told them to toughen up because it would likely get much hotter before the season ended. I was wrong.

Only in the past couple of weeks have we been adversely affected by wind. For the first time in my coaching career, I had to shorten practice because we just could not keep a ball in play.

Our facilities are located on the west edge of town with the courts facing north and south. A strong cross wind was howling that day. The girls made a gallant effort to play, but the gale was too much.

We have battled a bit of rainy weather the past week, but we practiced once in Robert C. Brown Gymnasium. Another day, we just took the afternoon off. There was nothing else we could do.

To be sure, tennis teaches patience, both for the player and the coach. I am sometimes a cheerleader, often a psychologist, once in a while the butt of practical jokes, but always a supporter of my student athletes.

Though our performances in regionals were a bit disappointing for us all, I consider it a privilege to have worked with these young people this season, and, since not one of them is a senior, I hope to help them achieve more next year.

I often brag on them, mostly about things that don?t directly relate to the game they play. I have been known to make the tongue-in-cheek observation that I may have the smartest varsity team around. They are all ?A? students, and sometimes that gets in the way of their play. They think too much instead of just reacting.

But, you know what, I?ll work with intelligent athletes any time. I prefer being around students who make good choices on and off the playing surface. And, the girls on Hillsboro High School?s 2009 varsity tennis team will always be queens of their courts.

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