Trust and communication key ingredients for EA girls tennis success

Whitaker Powell never imagined his career as the Episcopal Academy girls’ tennis coach would come full circle.

“I thought I would be coaching soccer after the first year,” joked Powell in a recent interview.

Not only did Powell survive his first year he has continued to evolve as a coach and realize you have to take each year as a separate entity to achieve continued success.

Powell said, “Starting as a 21 year old, I knew the game but I had no idea about the mental aspect of the game. I always took it for granted because it was a real strength of mine but I had to learn how to teach the mental game.  I was much more reactionary back then. If a doubles team didn’t work, I would change them after one match. I didn’t have the patience or perspective that I have now.  I’ve learned that coaching is a process and sometimes the lessons you teach don’t click in until after graduation. I’ve also learned to trust my team and value their input.  High school students have amazing capacities and are rather insightful.  I’ve welcomed more of a dialogue with my players because they are the ones in the trenches doing battle.”

“The trust we have with each other is what makes this team unique,” said senior Bella Echevarria, who plays first doubles with senior Kaity Tarte. “He trusts us and really listens to our ideas. Coach Powell leans on the seniors but we discuss everything as a group and I believe that has been key to our success.”

Senior Haley Potter, who plays second doubles with junior Nina Stavropolous added, “Coach Powell made me see how much of a team sport tennis really is. In middle school it’s more individualistic. Being new to EA as a freshman, Coach Powell made me think of tennis as a team sport for the first time.”

The on-court success would not have been possible without the coach being able to gain a new perspective and start having trust in the players who do battle in the trenches and allow them experience adversity and deal with how to overcome and achieve their goal.

When Nadiyah Browning, (1st singles), Tarte, Potter and Echevarria were freshmen, Powell got the idea of pairing each with a senior.

“That particular senior class had outstanding leadership qualities,” Powell said.  Grace Van Arkel, Audrey Regillo, Allison Jacoby, Ali Camp and Anna Oschner were tremendous role models for this talented group of freshmen. While the freshmen might have had more racket talent, those girls mentored them in the way of doubles, how to compete and play as a team. Blending doubles teams takes time and when you have girls at such different stages of their lives, having them understand each other and play for each is difficult. That group experienced those ups and downs but I was determined to stick with it because I knew it was about more than winning that year, it was about solidifying a doubles culture that has proven to the bedrock of EA tennis the past 15 years on both the boys and girls side.”

“It was great playing with Audrey,” said Echevarria. “She was a veteran with the program and taught me how to have a great attitude and do what’s best for the team.”

Potter added, “Being a 14 year old teamed with an 18 year old can be tough because you are at different stages of your life. You feel like you’re still in middle school and your partner is talking about colleges. They were great because they taught you everything you need to know and teach you what you need to know to become a leader.”

Those freshmen are now the senior leaders Powell has learned to lean on in making decisions best for team.

“As I mentioned above, trust is huge as a teacher/coach,” said Powell “That trust begins in the classroom with the families that I’ve taught the pat 15 years. Students need to know that you will support them and have their back in life. The tennis piece is secondary.  If the students truly believe you care about them as young people, not just about their win/loss record, they’ll be more inclined to push themselves harder.  More importantly than trusting me is trusting each other.  If each player on the team feels like everyone is putting 100% into practice and matches, that raises the overall level. I also stress to the players, play for each other first and foremost.”

Junior Emily Beinkampen, who plays third doubles with junior Eloise Nimoityn added, “There is so much positive energy from this senior class. They have done a great job making sure everyone is included. We have five new kids and they have done a great job of making them feel included and how need to work as one to be successful.”




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