A different team from yesterday

October 9, 2011

By Contributor

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Mike Salokas Liberty High School tennis coach

Allow me recreate a scene from Sept. 20’s tennis match — Liberty versus Juanita.

On court No. 3, the final exhibition match was nearing completion and the thankful end of a one-sided match was concluding. Juanita coach Justin Ochsner and I are amid obligatory congratulations while I am packing supplies and equipment.

Suddenly, Justin and I hear commotion coming from court No. 1. Players from both teams run there in such haste the Juanita coach and I fear something terrible is occurring.

Players from both teams merge together and begin an intra-team game of King of the Hill. Much to the coaches’ surprise, players from both teams combine and begin to yell, cheer and laugh as they proceeded to play in a tennis drill often used by coaches every day at practice.

The irony is the Liberty team record in 2011 at this point is a dismal 0-5.

During the formal match against Juanita, I took critical notes of Liberty play with intent to use the data and observations as a motivational tool in future practice. Listed and underlined on my clipboard were instances of mechanical (swing) failure, lack of strategy in point creation, and clear deficiency in stamina and conditioning.

I was preparing my no-holds-barred tennis lecture.

As I watched the players on my team engaged in full-scale King of the Hill with the Juanita players, a first thought was, “Oh swell, poor on-court performance has given way to goofing around after the important match is over.”

My next consideration was, “Well, if my players understand they are underperforming, maybe hitting some extra shots will help.”

As I further watched what was happening on the court, I realized that many of the Liberty players were actually exhibiting better form, shot selection and tactical consideration than their play during the formal match.

I tend to coach from an “old-school” perspective. As a lifelong athlete, I compete to win.

The opponent is the enemy — someone to exert all energies, and within the guidelines of rules and fair play, to defeat.

At the end there is a winner and a loser. Losing has no redeeming value.

As a coach, my perspective changes.

I’m vigilant toward opportunities to demonstrate how winning, good sportsmanship, team togetherness and merely participating in good competition are all important qualities and life-developing opportunities for transformation into adulthood.

At times, however, the desire to win — the drive to win along with necessary tenacity and ferocity seep into my coaching. During the Juanita match, the seeping level had raised to dripping.

As I watched Liberty varsity players perform with players from Juanita — and as I reflect on what my goal as coach is — I see how positive the impact of the match truly was.

What Justin and I witnessed was an extraordinary occurrence. Today, my perception of the Liberty varsity tennis team is different from what it was before the Juanita match.

The experience makes me feel proud to be a high school coach.

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