Team Unity

As I woke up Sunday morning and went to hike Bishop’s Peak, I was thinking about how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place and do something I truly love. The season is already half over and could not be going any quicker. It was just six months ago when I met our five incoming freshmen, and I have seen them transform into much more confident tennis players and people.

They came in as timid girls with different personalities, cultures (one is from Belgium, another from Israel) and interests. Yet they have created such a strong bond with each other and have become the closest of friends. This is one of the rewarding parts of coaching: watching the girls grow into their identities and coming together as a team. When I was a player, I never really noticed these subtle changes that I or my teammates made, but now that I am outside the box, everything is much more clear.

Hiking to Bishop's Peak

On Friday after practice, I decided to do a fun activity to keep up the team morale. Because it has been a hard week with finals, Hugh and I have tried to make the last 15 minutes of practice really fun and different. So far we have played a competitive doubles game, a game of tag, a relay race and made sure there was lots of laughing and joking around. This way they can come to practice and use it as a release (from studying) rather than finding it a burden. Our hope is if we make it fun in practice that they can head back to study in better moods, be relieved of stress and feel confident about their tennis games.

For my activity, I had the girls sit in a circle, and I picked someone out. I said something I admired, was thankful for and how she has been a positive influence in my life. She then picked another girl on the team and complimented her. The girls kept doing this until everyone on the team had received and given a compliment. It was pretty emotional, and the girls left practice in a better mood, while feeling positive about themselves and their teammates. As simple as it sounds, it really works. Hearing something nice or saying something positive about someone you care about is really refreshing and rewarding.

The girls carried this positive energy and momentum to our Saturday morning match. We played an easier team in our conference, so we were able to mix up our line-ups and give other girls on the team an opportunity to play. It is good to give everyone a chance (especially the ones who normally cheer) so they continue to stay inspired and eager to improve. The girls are very selfless in this sense that they support whoever is out on the court. It is fun to watch the leaders on the team sit out and support the girls who are at the bottom of the line-up and are normally the ones doing the encouraging.

The girls finished the dual match with great vocal support, lots of energy and improved team unity. I see us continuing to improve and striving to reach our goal of becoming the most improved team in the country!

Living the Dream,
Suzie

A Balanced Life

We’ve all been there: long hours of studying, living in the library, drinking coffee, pulling all nighters… It’s that time of the quarter when students are stressed with writing two 12 page papers, one take home final, and four in-class finals all in one week. Take that and add the stresses of collegiate athletes. Not only do they have to put in vigorous hours at the library, they still have daily practices, conditioning, lifting, individual lessons with Hugh, and extra practice sets with me.

During these next few weeks, Hugh and I try to fit in a balanced practice schedule. We do not want to overwhelm the girls with long strenuous practices, so we modify the workouts. We shorten the practices, intensify them, so they can get in a good quality hit and then have time to hit the books. We call these practices “The Tennis Warehouse” practice because it is very similar to the type of intensity we do when we practice on the indoor court here at Tennis Warehouse. Lucky for us, TW is generous enough to let our Women’s and Men’s team practice on their indoor court when it is rainy. We only get the court for one-hour segments with four girls on the court. Here is what a typical work out would looks like:

We get in a good dynamic warm up before practice, which includes jogging, stretching, plyometrics, and then quick movement work on the ladder. We begin practice with a one (yes only one!) ball warm up (you hit for ten minutes with one ball with lots of consistency, placement, and foot movement). We then put a cone deep in the baseline and the girls have to hit 20 cross-courts behind the cone, before they switch sides. We also do isolation drills, where one person stands in the corner and moves the person all over the court. We make the girls do suicide sprints in between to get their heartrate up in between each set. The first thirty minutes of practice is all about grooving, feeling and hitting lots of balls, while working on footwork, balance, and a low center of gravity. Now we switch the workout to work on closing volleys, moving forward, and taking control of the net. For the last twenty minutes or so, we play singles and doubles points. These workout are short, intense, and with a purpose.

Another thing we will do in the next few weeks is really increase their conditioning and continue to strengthen their bodies with our lifting program. For the past month we have had so many matches that we were not able to push the girls to the point of extreme soreness. Now that we have a few weeks without many matches, we can do lots of sprint work, agility, and shorter distances to get them in optimal shape for our conference tournament (where they will play at Indian Wells in extreme heat for 3 days straight).

One of the conditioning workouts we do is 300-yard sprints. We do 4 sets of these 300-yard sprints, which is very similar to the length of a long point. This way the girls can work on change of direction, increasing their heart rate, and moving as quickly as possible. After we get around twenty minutes of fitness and agility, the girls are off to lift.

With a Women’s tennis team, we are not trying to get the girls bulky or muscular. We want to work on lengthening their bodies, strengthening their core, working on their balance, and especially focusing on a low center of gravity. Their workouts are very tennis specific with lots of repetitions and low weights. The girls do lots of squats and lunges, while super-setting it with abs and core work. We finish the lift with fifteen minutes of stretching to loosen up their bodies.

Now the girls have time to go to the library to study, but will feel confident on the tennis court. Coming from 4 years of experience, I have realized you play the best tennis when you have a balanced life and are feeling good in all areas of your life. This is one of the philosophies Hugh has brought to the Cal Poly Women’s Tennis program; tennis is important, but so are family, friends, education, and a love for life.

Living the dream,
Suzie

In tennis, it’s all about love and memories

When I think back to my college career, I do not really think about the matches I won or lost.

Perhaps I recollect my experiences at NCAA’s with my team and doubles partner in Athens, Georgia and Tulsa, Oklahoma. I remember getting to the finals of Indoor Nationals during a blizzard in Madison, Wisconsin and the feeling of playing in front of 400 crazy fans in Baylor, Texas.

But to be honest, I cannot remember the scores of those matches; the memories I have are the experiences and places I shared with my teammates. The thing I will cherish the most are the people I met, the coaches that shaped my life, and the friends that I will have for a lifetime. As cliché as that sounds, I grew up and learned so much about myself from my teammates and coaches that surrounded me, which is more valuable than any match I ever played.

Me and the famous Andy Gerst

The team headed to Riverside this weekend, which to be truthful, is normally an easier match for us. I expected the girls to be agitated to drive over five hours to play a team they most likely would demolish, but again, the girls made the best of the trip and that is what makes these experiences so much more rewarding and fun. For five hours, 9 girls and 2 coaches blasted the latest country songs, singing, dancing, and laughing the entire van ride there.

When we drove through Los Angeles, we stopped at a Whole Foods to grab a quick dinner. When you imagine a women’s college tennis team, you would probably assume that these girls do not eat much because of their fit bodies and physiques. Well, that is the most skewed statement, especially about this Cal Poly team. On one of our trips, the hotel waitress said we ate more then the UCLA men’s Rugby Team.

Whole Foods has a great variety from pastas to salads, and you can fill it up as much as you want.  Well one of the girls did not realize how much food she put on her tray and ended up with a $24.00 meal. After we saw the price, we did not know what to do, but just laugh it off. This is one of the only times I did not tell Hugh (our head coach) all the details and instead kept my mouth shut (and laughed) as she devoured her expensive meal.

When we arrived at the Comfort Inn, I paired up the girls and they headed to their hotel rooms. Since we have five new girls and five returners, I rotate the freshman with one of the older girls. This way the team can continue to bond and learn from one another. Normally, it ends up that all the girls pile into one room, sharing stories and facebook. It is important to get a great night’s rest, so the girls head to bed around 10p.m. The coaches do not tell the girls a bedtime, they do it themselves. They are all motivated and want to be as prepared as possible.

The morning of a match day, the atmosphere changes. The girls are much more focused; many of them have certain routines they do. Listening to their IPODs, eating a certain meal, while others are more carefree and just try to stay loose. It is entertaining for me to notice these vices and habits because as a player last year, I was always in my own world. I never focused on anyone or anything, but my upcoming match.  I was so extreme with my morning routine that my teammates knew to leave me alone, unless I approached them. Now as a coach, I get to notice the other girls’ strategies and techniques to be best prepared.

The match against Riverside went extremely well. The Riverside team came out on fire in doubles, but our girls remained calm and controlled the situation as best as they could. After we pulled out a close doubles point, our girls came out with tons of energy in singles. They stuck to their best patterns, found their opponent’s weaknesses, and dominated on every court. As we headed back on the five-hour drive home, we were all pleased with our performance.

In one short trip, the girls had been in a van for over ten hours, played a dual match, and still managed to have so much fun together.

As I said, it is the memories they make on weekends like this that they will cherish.