2020 Women's History Month: Rochelle Houston, Florida A&M University
As we celebrate Women's History Month, USTA.com spotlights some of the female coaches who are making history of their own as the latest generation of sporting trendsetters, serving to inspire more females to enter the coaching corps at the NCAA level and beyond.
Three years after graduating from Florida A&M University (FAMU) as a star member of the women’s tennis team, Rochelle “Coach Nikki” Houston returned to her alma mater in the summer of 2005 to head up the women’s tennis program. Twelve years later, in August 2017, Houston took on the role of director of tennis at the historically black university, located in Tallahassee, Fla., and since then has been head coach of both the men's and women's tennis teams.
During her 15 years at FAMU, Houston has led the men's team to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) title in 2017 and the women's team to three MEAC regular-season southern division titles. In addition to the Rattlers on-court success, Houston’s teams have excelled in the classroom, with the 2018 men’s and women’s tennis programs earning All-Academic Team Honors by compiling a team GPA of over 3.2. The women’s team also received the highest GPA award for the university’s athletic department in 2017, with the men following suit with the same honor in 2018.
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Houston earned two degrees from FAMU—a bachelor's in computer information systems in 2002 and a master’s in sports management in 2006. She was a four-year letter winner on the women's tennis team as an undergrad, playing No. 1 singles and doubles, and she was named MEAC All-Conference in 2002.
USTA.com recently caught up with Houston, the 2007 MEAC Coach of the Year, about how she balances coaching both the men’s and women’s teams, her biggest influences in tennis and much more.
USTA.com: You went to school at Florida A&M and now are coaching there. What’s it like coaching at your alma mater?
Rochelle Houston: It is a blessing to get the opportunity to come back and coach at my alma mater. I definitely bled orange and green while I was a player at FAMU, so coming back and giving those opportunities to new student-athletes has been a full-circle experience.
USTA.com: Did your college tennis experience as a player shape your coaching philosophy? If so, how?
Rochelle Houston: Absolutely. I took what I thought was effective and was not effective and applied those experiences into shaping my coaching philosophy.
USTA.com: You started at FAMU coaching the women's team, and then added the men’s program, too, when you became the university’s director of tennis in 2017. What’s it like coaching both the men's and women's teams simultaneously? Is it hard to juggle?
Rochelle Houston: Coaching both teams is definitely a balancing act because you don’t want the other team to feel like they are not getting your full attention. But if you have a great supporting staff, like I have, it makes the charge much easier.
USTA.com: Do you use a different approach when coaching the men's team compared to when you're coaching the women’s, or is it the same for both?
Rochelle Houston: To me, it is the same. Everyone on the men’s and women’s team has a certain game plan and goals that they want to accomplish so that they can get better. We do our best to help them accomplish those game plans and goals. Men are a little bit faster and stronger, but the game is still tennis.
USTA.com: What does a typical day look like for you?
Rochelle Houston: I wake up at 5:45 a.m. for 7 a.m. practice for both teams until about 9 or 9:30 a.m.; individual practices throughout the day until about 5 p.m. Then just finding in-between time to do office work and recruiting.
USTA.com: I’m sure your schedule is crazy as head coach of both teams. What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re away from the court and have some down time?
Rochelle Houston: Spending time with my husband, with watching different TV shows or movies. Also, getting out and riding with our motorcycle club, Top of the Line Ryderz MC, and giving back to the community as much as we can.
USTA.com: What do you enjoy most about coaching at the college level, and what would you say is the most challenging part?
Rochelle Houston: What I enjoy the most is the development of the players on and off the courts and seeing them reaching their ultimate goals. The most challenging is the development of the players on and off the courts and seeing them reaching their ultimate goals.
USTA.com: When you think back on your coaching career so far, what is the biggest highlight for you?
Rochelle Houston: Seeing each player finish with their degree has to be the most rewarding highlight in my coaching career.
USTA.com: Who have been the biggest influences in your tennis career?
Rochelle Houston: Definitely my parents. Through the ups and downs, my parents have always been there through my tennis career, both playing and coaching. My dad taught me everything I needed to know about tennis because he has been my coach since I was four years old. But my mom truly is the one that started us playing tennis; she introduced my dad to the game. My mom’s military background helped develop my mental toughness that I need to have on the tennis court. Their presence really structured my playing and coaching style to date.
USTA.com: Do you have any advice for current players who might want to go into college coaching?
Rochelle Houston: Absorb from the coaches you have now—the good and the bad. Also, understand that college coaching is not about just coaching on the tennis court because your players are dealing with more than just being a player.