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Tennis Transition: Making the Change from Player to Assistant

By Keiran President
On September 14, 2018

Photo by Bruna Pacheco

Of all the scenarios in the world, who would have predicted that I would have to make the transition from tennis player to student assistant in my senior year due to eligibility complications? The realization that this was, in fact, not at all a dream, but a very real situation, came at me like a wrecking ball, to say the least.

The thought of not celebrating Senior Day, of not posting on social media to show off to my friends and family back home — #SeniorSzn — of not being able symbolize the near-end to one of the most fulfilling journeys in my life thus far, was crushing. The sport that I loved so much and  the teammates who started off as strangers and are now like family, had been taken away. All the hard work, the tough times and challenges, the many facets of rejection that I faced to reach this point all boiled down to nothing after I read that text from Coach Scott.

I felt helpless and defeated; my eyes welled up, my heart was broken. I felt like all the air in the room was gone. The ground beneath me was sinking slowly. What now? How do I fix this? Why me? Through the disappointment though, I had to remain positive and professional, hoping that this would all sort itself out and life as I knew it would quickly be restored.

Giving my family the news was another difficult part. They know how much this sport means to me and how much time, effort and sacrifice it took to get here. I was sure they would feel my pain, but speaking about it was a challenge. I felt like the more I said it out loud, the more real it was, and I wasn’t ready to accept that this was my reality, though I knew I had to. They asked questions, wanting answers that I really did not have a response for.

It was already shaping out to be a difficult transition, and I realized that it would become more difficult if I did not make a conscious effort to be positive. All I could imagine was sitting on the sidelines thinking “I should be out there,” while I sat helpless, watching all my teammates do what I wish I could be doing.  

Despite all the negatives, I had to think positively. My first thought was that my last season was a great one. I had achieved my goal of flipping my 2016-17 record from my previous school, Cameron University, which was 5-14 in singles and 7-7 in doubles; I finished my 2017-18 season at Ottawa University with records of 17-5 singles and 19-3 doubles, which landed me in OU’s record books in several different categories.

Not a bad way to finish my college tennis career, if you ask me.

So for this season, I set a new goal: to help my team succeed, even if I cannot do it as a player. I would become a student assistant, which would include acting as a hitting partner and sharing knowledge, tips and tricks.

My summer internship working at Carmel Valley Tennis Camp somewhat prepared me for this position, where I coached over 50 kids throughout the summer. As the summer went on and I received praises for my coaching abilities, I realized that I really have a knack for coaching and honestly enjoy it. I loved to see the kids running to me after their tennis matches, telling me that what I taught them worked.

For all the positives to come out of acting as a student assistant, I did have some anxiety about it. I have no experience or training in coaching to give my former teammates any reason to listen to me. All I did was coach some kids at a summer tennis camp, play two years of college tennis and grow up on a small island with a tennis population of less than 64 players. What do I really know about the sport?

Despite this, my mentor, Coach Scott, offered me the student assistant position and pushed me to go for it.

“Keiran, think about it like thi s…” Coach Scott writes, “if you can’t play, I would really like to have you as a student coach because of your knowledge of the game and your leadership skills.”

Even if I was heartbroken that I couldn’t play, he gave me hope that I could still be an asset to the team. After working as a student assistant for a while, I’ve grown to accept and enjoy it, though seeing the energy and competitive nature from the entire team makes me a little emotional. I wish I could share the court with them as a player, but the players actually respect me as a coach and take my advice openly, which is incredibly meaningful.

It is definitely not an easy transition, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you got to do. The phrase that keeps me going strong is one my mother would always tell me when things didn’t go the way we wanted: “Everything happens for a reason.”

This phrase has me living my best life right now. I no longer go on court in fear of my team not seeing me as a coach and I have become more accepting of my new position as a student assistant.

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