Coach Susan Welshock mentors players of all ages, but gets a special charge out of working with Jr. Team Tennis kids.
© USTA New England/Susan Welshock
Sixteen-year-old Nisha Rajamohan, who plays with a prosthetic right arm, has blossomed under Welshock's tutelage.
© USTA New England/Susan Welshock
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
Susan Welshock loves tennis. More than that, she loves to teach and share the game she loves with other people.
Coaching at the high school level and leading her USTA New England Jr. Team Tennis team for the past five years, Welshock is a six-, often seven-days-a-week court fixture in her tiny shoreline community of East Lyme, Conn., off the Long Island Sound. She is the head coach of the East Lyme High School boys’ varsity team (five Eastern Connecticut Conference titles, twice named ECC Coach of the Year) and the founder of the WELPLAYED Jr. Team Tennis, uniting youngsters from East Lyme and the nearby towns of Waterford, Groton and Salem on the courts, all of which defines a hectic yet satisfying existence.
"I’m usually transporting kids, making it easy on parents," said Welshock. "All the parents would really have to do is drop off their kid to me and I’d be sure to get them to the match."
Through her dedication to the game and her students, Welshock is succeeding in making the game more accessible. And to her, taking on the less glamorous duties like driving the carpool means there is less worry about the off-court logistics, which frees her up to help kids find their focus on the court.
"The challenging thing in teaching the younger players is teaching that losing is all part of winning in the end – if you don’t lose, you don’t know how to win, and how good it ultimately feels," said Welshock, who has led various Jr. Team Tennis teams to district and state championships.
"You learn more when you lose because you assess your game, whereas when you win, you don’t think about it," she added. "It’s a special feeling then when you have girls in your program graduate to high school, walk in and earn No. 1 and No. 2 singles on the varsity team, and knowing that they went in knowing how to properly play a match with their [Jr. Team Tennis] experience."
For the 29-year-old, the allure of tennis istelf – a sport that provides fitness, mental challenges and can be played at any proficiency or age – was partly born out of that win/loss dynamic: Poor mentorship sullied her high school experience, and she vowed to be better than the person who coached her as a teen.
"I had one of those coaches that didn’t know much about tennis and seemed like they were teaching more out of an obligation than a passion," said Welshock.
But for Welchock, it didn’t matter if the coach mailed in a practice, or if she couldn’t find a ride to and from the courts: She made it there, right after school or work, even if it cut into a weekend. Her love of tennis was more nature than nurture, but that sort of spirit is rare – as a coach, she focuses on being as available as she can so that kids will enjoy tennis and want to stay in the game.
Sixteen-year-old Nisha Rajamohan is one of the players that remains special to Welshock. The two met at the start of Welshock’s coaching career in East Lyme and have stayed together since. Lean and athletic, Rajamohan has improved and stayed motivated, now also playing in high school and in USTA tournaments in addition to competing for WELPLAYED. To serve, the left-hander throws the ball high with her prosthetic right arm – a handicap that has not slowed her progress through the years.
"She went from a little girl who was sort of goofing around with tennis and enjoying the social aspect of what we do to really working on her strokes," said Welshock. "Nisha hit that age where that internal motivation kicks in and separates herself from others. She’d grab her mom, or her dad – really anyone she could – to go out and hit with her so that she’d reach her goals in being better.
"When she asked for added drills or activities she could do to get to the next level, it was a proud and exciting feeling for me."
Welshock’s dedication to Rajamohan is hardly unique, however. Summertime is the most active season of the year for WELPLAYED and Welshock makes sure she is there for all her players. She coaches each and every match for 33 players in all, including her two 18 & Under squads, a 14 & Under team and a 12 & Under team.
Additionally, Welshock hosted three tournaments in the summer of 2012, for both children and adults, and held regular clinics: 10 and Under Tennis for a younger demographic, and sessions for high schoolers, adult players and even parents, with the focus on keeping up with their active tennis-playing children after a long day of work.
"Giving [kids and parents] programs where all they need are sneakers and a racquet, that’s the goal," said Welshock. "I want as many kids involved as possible. I want teams as big as they can be."