Coming back from our first men’s tennis match with a win in tow in the van back to Oneonta, N.Y., with the players asleep in the back, is some of the best time for me to gather my thoughts. I comprised our efforts and appreciated their win almost as much as they did. I knew the hard work that prepared the players for the results achieved were done over a two-week period, a few early mornings, a few late nights and lots of agility/weight room activities were done to endure and thrive through the grind of a three-month-long season.
We approach our collegiate season with synergized efforts among the players to push each other to succeed, while balancing their schoolwork, social activities and other extra-curricular involvement. What a sacrifice these young men and women make to compete at a high level of tennis for a three-month marathon, traveling all over the Northeast and Eastern Seaboard. Thank you to all the student/athletes out there on your college tennis teams who comprehend these sacrifices made will help you later in life while understanding commitment, obligation and hard work. We hold them accountable for hard work, timeliness, commitment, truth, honesty, striving for excellence, passion, mental toughness, discipline and the development of good habits. I think they are great values to assist in the hunt for wins. Not just winning on the tennis court, which is secondary compared to daily life’s struggles that need our utmost pursuit to find success. If these are just words to those who are reading them, they do indeed have great meaning to me as a coach. I read Vince Lombardi’s secrets to winning and these are the qualities in humans that helped him find success with the players he had on the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s as they dominated the league in those years. The NFL commemorates Vince Lombardi with a Super Bowl Trophy named in his honor to draw attention to those successes using those great qualities.
What I am happy to share with you is the sacrifices me and my coaching colleagues make not only in tennis, but in all sports out there within the atmosphere we have to operate in these times with. Harassment allegations everyday seem to encompass the news in the workplace and the sports world from employers, coaches, teachers and others who abuse their power to take advantage of those who look at their victims as vulnerable. If the allegations all prove true, then let the punishment be so imposed to the fullest extent of the law and we should be helping those who also have been victimized in every way possible.
As a tennis coach not just for collegians, I now have to operate in a different environment and uphold the highest level of standards of character which has always been the right way for me. Now, however, at any moment, I can be scrutinized for conduct not becoming of a coach. My hats off to colleagues and the overwhelming majority who continue to make the coaching profession respected and admired. Is it fair that coaches nowadays are somehow asked to hold up to such a standard? Of course it’s fair. We coach tennis, the sport for a lifetime. The sport of tennis, like it or not, was at one time an elitist sport and you were expected to be a gentleman and lady, thereby acting accordingly.
The responsibility of being a coach has so much to do with being a role model. I/we can expect no less of ourselves than to continually drive the message of what we want resonating with students. I call attention to our sport’s greatest male champion, that being Roger Federer. Does he not conduct himself with dignity and class at every point, match and tournaments throughout his career? A family man whose actions on and off the court are that of the highest standards. As a coach of young impressionable men and women, I often look to Roger Federer (and there are many other professionals men and women), who continuously displays the work ethic and role model behavior for not just players but for us coaches to aspire to.
Parents of youngsters who are aspiring high school, college players and/or future recreational players who dot most of the tennis landscape of America we coaches also need your help. Teaching your children to respect a coach, to honor the expertise, to handle a little criticism and to reenact the movements of great players is sound advice. A sense of entitlement on the tennis court will not help them.
Let’s fast-forward a number of years and your son or daughter walks into their first job. On many occasions, that young 22- or 23-year-old may very well have to sign a code of conduct and asked to protect the company’s high standard and brand. If that person shows disrespect, insubordination and not upholding good morals and principles, that same company will be more than happy to give them a pink slip and a parent cannot do a damn thing about it.
The values that good, competent coaches teach on the court will not only help them be better tennis players, but better people and better contributors to society. Please monitor your son and daughter’s progress, but the competent coach needs you to allow us to do our job. We want overachievers, good people and competent tennis players and it is our goal as coaches to teach them to be contributors to society.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.