ITA/USTA College Coach Mentorship Program wraps successful first year
In a year with challenges unlike any other, college coaches in the ITA/USTA mentorship program have had each other to lean on throughout the 2020-21 tennis season. As the program’s inaugural class begins to wrap up a successful year, applications for next year’s class are now open, through April 4.
In the first year, 12 up-and-coming head and assistant coaches were paired with veterans of the trade, with matches based on factors like division and location.
“I’m honored and excited to be in the first class and helping to get this program of the ground,” said Arcadia University’s Pam Rendé, one of the program’s mentors. Crediting the ITA and USTA for their work in making it a reality, she described her experience as “invigorating and eye-opening.”
A five-year coach at Arcadia and a former elite-level coach, Rendé has been at the helm of both the men’s and women’s teams since joining the Division III outfit from Glenside, Pa. Her mentee, Ali Flores, is currently the men’s and women’s coach at Gettysburg College—and the only female head coach in the Centennial Conference.
The pair first met (virtually) in August, and have kept in touch via Zoom, texts and phone calls throughout the year.
"Pam has been great,” said Flores. “She is someone I can go to where I know that I'm not going to get judgement. She’s been in my shoes before, so I really feel like I can ask her anything."
As leading women in a profession that is primarily made up of male coaches, the two share a common bond.
"To have Pam as someone to look up has meant a lot," Flores reflected.
While the Gettysburg coach feels accepted and valued in her conference as its lone female coach, she does still feel an added sense of responsibility: "I want to show that a female can lead a men's program and make it better," she said.
In addition to their relationships with their respective mentors, the program’s mentees have also enjoyed the community created amongst themselves as they grow together in the profession.
As part of the program—through an ITA partnership with True North Sports—the young coaches also studied an educational curriculum, with the various topics serving as a springboard for further discussions with their respective mentors.
“The conversation goes far beyond the X’s and O’s because there’s so much more going on,” shared mentee Jason Proctor, head men’s and women’s coach at D-II Oklahoma Baptist University. He is paired with 22-year Northwestern women’s coach Claire Pollard.
Both Proctor and Pollard went into coaching directly after their collegiate playing careers, with Pollard eventually coaching the men’s and women’s sides at D-I Lamar University for five seasons before taking the job at Northwestern. But, as Pollard put it, they are “extremely different” in many ways, which makes for an even more enriching experience.
“The match between me and her has worked out really well,” Proctor said. “I was pretty excited that I was matched with a female coach because I thought there would be a lot to learn there. And the fact that she is coaching on the women’s side, that was another factor that has opened up more learning opportunities.
“Most of the coaches that I’ve learned from in the past, almost all of them have been male.”
After meeting virtually throughout the fall and winter, Proctor made the drive to the University of Oklahoma to meet Pollard in person at ITA Winter Nationals, where her Wildcats were competing. After the event, the coaches had dinner and watched the Super Bowl together.
“I learned an incredible amount just from one day,” said Proctor, “watching Claire on the practice court, watching her interact with her girls off the court, and then in the match in competition.”
Added Pollard: "I'm pretty confident this is a life-long relationship, which is really awesome for both of us."
For her, the mentorship program is also a chance to get back to the basics of coaching:
"We're in such a competitive industry that sometimes the completive piece gets the better of us and we don’t think about the big picture, necessarily, of just helping everyone and anyone who’s a player become better.
“There's a balance to be found there, obviously. My job is to develop Northwestern tennis players and win matches a at Northwestern, but one thing I’ve always liked and respected is when you see a young person really develop and grow their game, wherever they are. It's really fun to see, and the better we are as coaches, the more likely that is to happen.”