Q&A: Lynne Rolley, PTR chair, on her unique coaching career after passing up Original 9
This Women’s History Month, USTA.com is honoring female leaders in the tennis industry—women who are shaping the future of the game on and off the court as they build on the legacy of pioneers like Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King, Katrina Adams, and Serena and Venus Williams. This edition of our Q&A series spotlights Lynne Rolley.
Lynne Rolley has coached tennis players every level of the game, from beginners up through Grand Slam champions like Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport. She spent 15 years with the USTA beginning in 1988, quickly rising from national coach to director of women’s tennis, and coached Team USA as Fed Cup, the PanAm games and other international competitions.
She is currently the director of tennis at Meadow Swim & Tennis Club in Orinda, Calif., and lives in Moraga in the East Bay, where she was born and raised.
With more than 50 years of coaching expertise, Rolley has been involved with Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) for more than 35 years. In February, she was unanimously elected to serve as the chair of the organization’s Board of Directors. She is the seventh chair of the PTR, and the second woman to lead the organization in that positon.
Rolley recently joined USTA.com for a chat about her new role and her trailblazing coaching journey, which began after an elite junior playing career.
Q. I know there have been a lot of great things happening recently at PTR, including being fully accredited by the USTA in 2020. In your new your new role, how do you hope to build on that momentum? What are you excited about in the coming months and years?
Lynne Rolley: Well, we have a wonderful Board of Directors, and we have a wonderful staff. We've been located at Hilton Head Island, S.C., for 46 years. We're hoping to actually find a home that we own, so we're looking around at facilities to maybe relocate.
We'd like to add pickleball, padel and platform tennis courts at our headquarters much like the USTA National Campus in Orlando. We have a new association called Professional Sports Registry (PSR) which currently features four racquet sports, but PTR is our founding base.
And it's just great for me, as I feel tennis has been completely stimulated since COVID. So I'm most excited about tennis being energized again and being part of it. I think there are just so many things we can offer coaches and new members—there’s a great camaraderie.
Q: As the second woman to be elected PTR chair, you’re continuing tennis’ great history of women leading the way and fighting for progress. From that perspective, what does it mean to you to be in this high-profile position as a woman in tennis, to continue that trend today?
Lynne Rolley: You know, all of my positions have been a little unique in that way, but I've never really felt that I was in that position because I was a female. I just worked my way into some of those positions.
Way back in the 70s, I was coaching a men's college team. I think I was the first woman to coach an NCAA team, and that was quite unusual in the 70s. And then moving on when I went to work for the USTA, I very quickly became head of women's tennis, which was very challenging and very exciting.
From there I went to Berkeley Tennis Club, where there had never been a female director. So I don't know, I just end up in these spots. (Laughs.)
At PTR, we have other women now on the Board. We have PTRW, which is a whole new women's initiative, and we're offering lots of support and educational opportunities for women through PTR. We've invested a good amount of money in improving the opportunity for women coaches, and we take pride in that. We also have a partnership with the WTA, which is fantastic.
It's just a great effort by the previous board members and by Dan Santorum, who is our CEO, that he has he has taken great interest in this and shown tremendous support. So I think that's a big part of it.
Q: Can you share a little more about the partnership with the WTA?
Lynne Rolley: It’s a relatively new program for transitional players who want to go into coaching. If they've been ranked at a certain level, we offer them a membership without any fees to be part of it. And so we really try to welcome them into the coaching profession very easily so they can make that transition. PTR has helped develop the WTA coach program so those coaching WTA players have more knowledge to help their players.
Q. On the topic of transitioning to coaching, I was curious about your start in the profession. I know you were a top junior. Did you also play a little bit at the pro level?
Lynne Rolley: You know, not much. When everybody turned pro, I went back to school, and my father really didn't encourage me to join the Original 9. I was also very young at the time, so I didn't. And it was right during the Vietnam War, and I got married and moved to Germany for a couple of years and then my playing was over.
So when we returned home to the States, I just started looking around for a job coaching, and I ended up at St. Mary's College, which was my first coaching job.
Q. So the Original 9… If you did go the route of professional tennis, that’s where you would have been?
Lynne Rolley: Those were all my friends and all my peers. Yes, all my friends say that I was the 10th—the 10th that didn't happen. I saw Billie Jean King at Indian Wells, and she said she was thrilled that I am in this important leadership role in our industry
Q. You certainly made your own path in a different, very cool way.
Lynne Rolley: It's interesting, isn't it? I went in a different direction, but gosh, I've been so fortunate in my coaching career and I've enjoyed every minute of it.
And I'm often asked, ‘What level do you like coaching the best?’ And you know, frankly, that's a tough question, because it's so much fun to work with anybody who wants to get better.
Q: You worked with players at the very highest level in your time at the USTA. How did that opportunity come about?
Lynne Rolley: The USTA opportunity came up in ‘88 when Player Development started, and they were looking for a female to be a national coach. And fortunately, I knew Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe pretty well. So I talked to them about it, and they brought me back to New York and decided that it would be a good fit.
So that was a nice launch in Player Development. And from there, it didn't take long that I was really overseeing women's tennis.
Q. I know you worked with a lot of great players during that time, including coaching Team USA at Fed Cup, the PanAm games and other international competitions. Are there any particular memories that stand out, or certain accomplishments that that you're most proud of in your time at the USTA?
Lynne Rolley: Well, immediately I became Jennifer Capriati's coach and traveled with her for a year while I was running the rest of the program. And at the time I was coaching Jennifer, Lindsay Davenport and Chanda Rubin, and they were all the same age, but they were developing at very different speeds.
At the end, they all did really well in their own way, but you never know, their biological age and their rate of development was so different.
But I had so many great players over the course of my 15 years with the USTA, and what I really like the most about that experience was that those players have remained very good friends and we have just such a mutual respect for each other. It's really given me great gratitude to not only help them become good players, but good people. I mean, you can see Lindsay's career and Chanda's and goodness, Meredith McGrath and many others who have done well in life.
We always say that tennis is full of life lessons, and if we as coaches can impart that, regardless of how high they go in the rankings, you've done a great job. It's not just about hitting tennis balls.
Q. Absolutely, and of course that same principle applies to coaching at the club level as well, where you’ve spent time more recently. How would you compare that experience with working at the elite level with the USTA? How does one help the other?
Lynne Rolley: Well, once you're standing with a Grand Slam champion, you have the feeling that you really do know the pathway, and it's certainly not for every child. And so hopefully the experience I've had can keep everybody grounded and realistic.
Those kids in my recreational program, my job is to see to it that they like tennis, first and foremost. So it's certainly a lot more about fun, but the basics are important. And I just think that if you come from a position of just a lot of experience, you probably can give good guidance.