I recently had the pleasure of interviewing tennis coach Erin Reeves, 2017 recipient of the USPTA’s High School Coach of the Year in New England. A graduate of Fairfield University, Erin coaches the girls’ tennis team at Wayland High School in Massachusetts. Under her leadership, the team made it to the finals of the 2016 state championship before winning the whole enchilada in 2017. Erin also coaches adults and children at the Needham Pool and Racquet Club.
Do you have a particular philosophy toward teaching tennis?
In general, the longer I teach, I more I realize you really have to meet people where they are and then work to find ways to challenge them to make them better. On my high school team we have a range of levels, and each girl wants to get something different out of their experience. I try to make it fun for everyone while giving each girl the opportunity to improve their game.
What coaching achievement are you proudest of?
Both the 2016 and 2017 Wayland seasons are what I’m most proud of in my coaching career. In 2016 we knew we had talent but weren’t quite sure how we stacked up against the traditionally strong teams. It really all came out of nowhere and the girls found themselves in the State D2 finals. We lost to Foxboro, but I really felt like it was such a joint effort between myself and our assistant coach (Carolynn Crabtree) and our players. The girls truly bought in and trusted what we were trying to teach them–and we almost pulled the whole thing off.
My three singles players returned the following year. They really set the tone with what the team’s goals were and how we were going to get there. They literally were obsessed with doing whatever they could to get back to the finals and win. We set smaller goals along the way, but no one lost sight of what they wanted to accomplish.
We ended up edging out Hingham, 3-2, in a nail biter in the final. All three of my singles came down to three sets. Watching one of my senior captains win her match and seal the win for us is a moment I will never forget and by far my best coaching memory.
The girls must have felt tremendous pressure going into the finals. Some people thrive in that situation, while others crumble. Is this just innate? How did you help your team manage the pressure?
Some of it’s innate, for sure. But you can get better at handling pressure just from facing it more. For my 2017 team, I kept telling them, “We’ve been here before.” And when the pressure starts getting to you, just focus on the basics, like moving your feet.
It sounds like goal-setting was instrumental to Wayland winning the state championship. What about teams who realistically aren’t going to the state championship or districts? Is goal-setting important for them as well?
You can still have intermediate goals. If you personally won 8 matches last season, you can try for 10. Or if your team lost badly to a top team last year, see if you can split with them this year. You can always be setting the bar a little higher and looking to improve.
Aside from natural talent and experience, what makes for a successful team?
As I learned with my 2017 high school team, chemistry really makes a huge difference. I think chemistry can account for some wins that the team may not have had otherwise. What really made this team wonderful was how they treated each other, how they came together for one goal and really went out and competed for each other. They supported each other and really seemed to enjoy one another’s company.
What do you need for a successful doubles partnership?
Communication is key, as well as being on the same page with your partner. Both players have to have the same goal. One partner can’t be obsessed with going to districts while the other one just wants to have fun.
At the end of the day, though, you do have to have fun with who you’re out there with! I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful doubles partners along the way.
Every player’s different, but if you could generalize, what could the recreational player focus on that would most improve his game?
I think, in general, if the recreational player really wants to push their game forward, they really have to make a commitment to improving technique and grips, especially the continental. Learning strategy is very important, but if you have the wrong grips or technique, you won’t be able to execute certain shots even if you’re in the right place on the court.
It can be hard for the older player to adjust their game and grips because it’s generally stuff they’ve been doing for so long, but it really does pay off. You have to be willing to go three or four steps back and allow yourself a couple of months to learn. I tell some of my adult team players to take time off. Don’t play spring league one year. Skip USTA. It’s hard because you want to play, but when you’re competing, you’re not going to want to make changes to your game. Taking some time off from competitive play can give you the space you need to grow your game.
Fitness is also important. Sometimes the player that can simply run and get to more balls can have such an advantage!
What can the older player learn from the high schooler?
Don’t overthink things. I find my high school girls live so much in the moment–they don’t dwell on a loss. I know that even I have let a loss or two ruin my day, but I’ve learned a lot from my high school team. Sometimes you just have to let it go. In 2016, we had a really tough loss, 2-3 in the state finals. The bus ride home was rough. There were definitely some tears. But by the end of the ride, they were all okay. They knew they gave it their all and just came up short. It wasn’t our day, but that didn’t diminish everything else they had accomplished. I couldn’t believe how resilient they were.
So teenagers have a better perspective than the older player? That surprises me!
I know! But in general they do. Maybe because they have homework to get to and SATs and everything. But they don’t dwell on their losses and they don’t bring that negative energy to the court the next day.
Is there a way to foster that resiliency?
[Laughs] I wish I knew!