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Anatomy of a High School Tennis Section Champion Team (Part One)

I love high school tennis.  23 seasons of coaching high school tennis have been enough to this point, but if I can find a way to get back in, while still serving my club to the utmost, then I will. 

I think any high school coach can take something from this blog post. 

I had been coaching at Kennedy High School in Fremont, where we snapped the Boy's 37 match league losing streak, and the girl's 71 match league losing streak, and were featured on High School Sports Focus (a regional show devoted to all HS sports, and Tennis is not often featured), when I was asked to coach at Mission San Jose High School.   I kept saying no, until I could find a good replacement coach, and when I did, I said yes.   So, in a strange turn, I was invited to coach the first place team, after having coached the last place team.  

Mission was the perennial league champion team, with few breaks from winning the league, but also a school with extreme academic demands.  So many times the team would be happy to win another league title, and if the team was really loaded, then they would pursue a section title, but if not, then they were content to lose early in section playoffs.  

I took over a young Mission squad that has lost its top two players, and had lost meekly in the first round of North Coast Section, a collection of 145 high schools from Fremont to Eureka.  

1. Have insanely challenging goals.   My first meeting with the team had 71 kids come out.  I showed a scary clip from an action adventure show, and that scared away 15 players. I then stated, "We will win NCS, and I don't know how long it will take, but that is our goal".   55 kids tried out for the team, after I expressed how hard we were going to work.

2. Use time effectively.   I had not been in a situation where players needed to be cut in order to fit on 6 courts, and time did not allow for a larger squad.  55 needed to become 24.  Day One 11 cut, all because they lacked fundamentals.  I explained to each player exactly what they would have to do to make the team next year.

Within three days were were done to 26 as I decided to keep a few extras. 

3. A periodized schedule of training.  When you periodize your training, you will go through conditioning even as your pre-season has begun.  Since 1995 my programs had always done this, and we lost of early matches that could have been won, and probably negatively affected our seeding.   Would you rather be more prepared and under rated, or underprepared and overrated?  Yes, thats what I thought. 

4. Maximum play!   I always sought the strongest possible and most full schedule allowed by the section rules.  THE KIDS LOVE TO PLAY AND THEY HATE TO PRACTICE. MAKE YOUR KIDS HAPPY!  Also, there is so much more experience and traning in playing matches that can be done. 

5. Realistic Goals NO PRESSURE.  Let the players know that you accept them as they are, and that you want them to improve.  But, that there is no shame in losing, and no punishment for losing, and that you will support them win or lose.   Improvement is the key to greatest chance of success.   So many people get this wrong when they focus so much on the outcome, instead of the process.  More on goals after my meeting.



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Comment by Bill Patton on November 17, 2011 at 6:46pm

So after we got our lineup down to 26 players, we set about on a very difficult schedule.  Having noticed that in 2007 that Bellarmine Prep had been to the finals of the NorCal championships, that seemed like a good place to start.  So we played Bellarmine and were beaten 9-0.   Nice little wake up call for the team, and a very nice three set loss for my #1 player against a top 10 NorCal Junior and Nationally Ranked kid from Bellarmine.  He played a great match but lost 7-5 in the third.  

Then, on to FRESNO.   Funny, it took a lot of arm twisting, cajoling, manipulating to get the team to want to play in the California High School Tennis Classic, the largest high school tennis tournament in the country.   We left on Friday after practice, and by the time Saturday morning rolled around everyone wanted to be sure that we were coming back the following year.   We were selected for Division One and that was nice, to be in a group of the top 16 teams.   We went 2-2 and finished 10th, including a 6-1 loss to Monte Vista.   We were soundly beaten.   Good thing we had extra players, because we had a few kids turn up sick, and a couple more injured, so...   but thats not an excuse, the two matches we lost, those teams were simply better.   Four team matches in two days, thats fun and tiring.   Also, the bonding experience of having 12 kids in three hotel rooms, and all the roughhousing was awesome.   We came together as a team on that trip.   

Good thing for that because the #2 team in our league was reaching a peak with lots of experienced players, fresh new talented freshmen, and strong motivation to beat us.  When we travelled to Irvington's courts, they had about 50 spectators there, which is a lot for a high school tennis match.  They also jumped out to leads in 6 out of 7 matches, and they also won the first set in four matches.  We were on the ropes.  #1 player was down 6-0,4-0, #4 player was down a tough set at 7-5, after some interesting line calls.   In what would be the turning point in our program...  #1 player rallied to win his set 7-5, and by the time he did that, most all the spectators had left.  #4 player with linespeople on his court rallied to win in three.  Then #1 player completed the win 6-3 in the third.   What could have been a 4-3, turned into a 5-2 win.  A very gritty performance from a group of players who now were playing for each other, instead of just as a group of individual tennis players.   

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