Enjoying the Game Part of Johnson Coaching Philosophy
Tracey Johnson, head coach of Blue Valley North’s girls and boys tennis team - and former USTA Missouri Valley Executive Director - holds fast to the idea that no matter the level, tennis should be fun.
That’s just one of the reasons Johnson is one the best prep tennis coaches in Kansas.
Johnson has coached the teams at Blue Valley North for over a decade. She has kept strong a rich tennis tradition for the Mustangs. She has also cemented her own legacy. Johnson and the Mustang girls team have captured five state championships in her tenure, including four straight titles from 2015-2018. A 2019 state title was shared with rival Shawnee Mission East High School.
While state championships solidify success, it’s the experiences that are more important to Johnson.
And Johnson’s coaching career didn’t even start in tennis.
“My first coaching job was in basketball,” Johnson said. “After high school I got my first job coaching at a basketball camp for middle school kids and I really loved it. Coaches were a huge part of my life because I played softball, basketball, tennis and volleyball. I knew that I wanted to go into teaching. Coaches were who I had to look up to. In a small town, I never really had any other role model. They are the first ones who teach you how to be better. My first paid coaching job was when I was a substitute teacher in Deerfield, Massachusetts. I was able to coach the tennis team and basketball team.”
Johnson also spent time working and coaching at a Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Massachusetts. She said it was there she realized the work that goes into coaching and the work elite junior tennis players put into their game.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Johnson said. “We worked really really hard and that’s how I learned what top players go through.”
An opportunity to work with USTA Missouri Valley in the early 2000s sent Johnson from Massachusetts to the Kansas City area, where she has lived ever since. In addition to coaching, Johnson is a District Court Trustee for the Wyandotte County District Court.
Johnson grew up in Angola, Ind., a town with approximately 8,700 residents near the Michigan border. With a parent often working and as an only child, she needed ways to occupy her time. Fortunately, for Johnson, she lived across the way from a park and was always looking to join in with those playing sports. She played basketball, softball and when she was 10-years-old, a couple playing tennis just happened to have an extra tennis racquet.
So began her love of tennis.
Fast forward to her college days at St. Francis University where she played on the tennis team. Her experience on the court during college are some of her best memories in tennis. During one doubles match, her partner accidentally hit her in the back of the head with her serve. The pair found it hilarious.
“I remember having so much fun in college playing with my doubles partner. Before college, I had never really played doubles and we had such a great time. During practice, we’d go at each other 100 percent, then in matches when we’d go and play we were a really cohesive team. We would never forget how to laugh.”
That joy is something she tries to impart in the Blue Valley North tennis team. You can enjoy the game while working hard to be the best you can be. She has taken a few mantras into her coaching philosophy: ‘perfect effort,’ and ‘hustle and heart sets you apart.’
Johnson feels fortunate to have the support of the Blue Valley North administration, as well team parents, especially during the pandemic. Johnson said the team was fortunate enough to get through without many of the issues several other teams faced. In the time before the pandemic, parents often had dinners for the team. She loves cultivating relationships with families and seeing multiple kids in those families come through the program. Her best experience is having so many legacy kids on her team. She still has many of those relationships, even after the players graduate.
“I think what people forget is that you can have fun and be the best you can be at the same time,” Johnson said. “It’s actually sometimes the fun that makes you try harder. It’s also not always about the ultimate trophy. It’s not about bringing home that piece of paper or title, just as long as you left it all out on the court and gave it everything you had.”
It takes more than a head coach to make a tennis team go. Johnson is also thankful to have stellar assistant coaches. She credits Tracy Cooper, Tom Verdi and Joanna Blackford for much of Blue Valley North’s success.
Coaching - and tennis - are things that Johnson will forever value. The game and the relationships it provides mean more than any state title or win.
“I’d never seen as a kid the amazing parental support of the community that we have with the Blue Valley North community. It’s been incredible. I know even the Shawnee Mission teams and teams all around Kansas City have had incredible support. It’s so valuable.”