Courting consistency: Owls coach takes tennis helm once again


For The Tribune

Seymour High School boys tennis coach has roots in the game that stretch across the country.

Brad Emerson’s love of tennis goes back to his days of growing up in Minnesota.

“Our high school (Orono) didn’t have a tennis team until I was a junior, and then it was a club sport,” Emerson said. “At that time you had to do two years of club before it became a varsity sport. I was a baseball player.

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“I did some (tennis) stuff in the summer, took some summer clinics when I was younger. My main exposure was when I moved to Arizona my junior year in college and got into the scene pretty heavy down there, playing at ASU (Arizona State) a lot.”

Emerson played recreationally before getting into a few tournaments.

While he had aspirations to play in some satellite tournaments, Emerson said his raw skill didn’t carry him that far.

ASU is located in Tempe, where Emerson was a student. He said he did not try out for the ASU team.

“I was from America,” Emerson said. “They only recruited foreign players. They were pretty strong.”

Emerson then began taking lessons and gave lessons.

“That was around 1986 or ’87,” Emerson said. “I was very fortunate to get in with a master professional (Bill Peterson) that used to work with Dennis Vander Meer, who was Billie Jean King’s coach. He helped form the United States Professional Tennis Registry, which at that time was the USPTR, and they changed it now to the PTR, because it’s worldwide.

“He was his right-hand man, traveled all over the world to learn how to teach, then taught me how to teach and it just kind of blossomed from there.”

Emerson taught at the Watering Hole Racquet Club, which was part of Registry Resorts at that time.

“I taught for about a year,” Emerson said. “Things weren’t all that great financially. It’s a tough gig unless you’re well established. Then I got a real job and didn’t teach for a while.”

Emerson said he then got into the park and recreation program in Gilbert, Arizona, before moving to Seymour.

Brad said he met his wife, Michelle at a softball game in Arizona.

“We had two young kids and we kind of wanted to get out of Phoenix, and raise them in a smaller town environment,” he said.

The Emersons moved to Seymour in 1996, and Brad found a tennis job shortly after.

“Tipton Lakes (in Columbus) had an opening, and I applied and got accepted,” Emerson said. “They told me up front the hours were going to start out pretty good and then it was going to drop off once the head pro got done coaching Columbus North.”

After taking on another job, Emerson taught tennis part-time.

Then he got his first high school coaching job.

“In 1998 I got a job coaching at Brownstown Central,” Emerson said. “I started out with the boys’ team and took over the girls in the spring.

“A couple years later (in 2001, Seymour Athletics Director) Mickey Beck approached me and asked me if I wanted to come up and coach here.”

Emerson coached the Seymour girls from 2001-08, and the boys 2003-2015. He has won five sectionals between the boys and girls teams.

He returned to coaching the Seymour boys this fall after stepping away for a season.

He said the biggest change in the game from when he started coaching to now is the equipment.

“Equipment has made a huge impact,” Emerson said. “The racquets nowadays are used for power — not a lot of control. The pro game has changed a lot, too. You don’t see the high shots over the net to get the ball in with plenty of top spin.

“(Rafael) Nadal is probably one of the last ones you’ll see doing that. It’s a very high risk, high reward type game, not a lot of consistency at that level.”

At the high school level, Emerson preaches consistency and spin.

“We try to promote that here because the kids aren’t at that level,” Emerson said. “We’re trying to teach that a lot of balls over the net is the first priority, and then getting it in is the second priority. We really try to get them to do that because at this level you’re going to see a lot more ground strokes and not a lot of aces, so there’s going to be a lot of balls hit.”

Emerson said he enjoys teaching high school players.

“I enjoy trying to work with their games, trying to develop their games, just seeing their progression from the start of the year to the end of the year,” he said. “A lot of them come in not really hitting over the summer. Toward the end of the season they’re able to keep rallies going. That’s always a neat thing, to see the progress in a kids’ play. I enjoy teaching the game a lot.

“I really enjoy teaching kids the right way to hit a tennis ball and try to promote that because good technique results in good, quality shots.”

He uses different coaching styles for singles and doubles.

“Doubles is more of a quicker rally, more high-intensity, with quicker footwork in smaller spots, and a lot of net play,” Emerson said. “That’s what you try to encourage. The kids get up to the net and play. You don’t want to see a lot of long rallies in doubles.

“In singles, you’re really trying to set the point up with deep shots, so that’s what I try to preach to the kids. Depth kills in this game. If you get a deep ball, chances are the response from your opponent is going to be short. Now you’ve got an opening.

On the tennis court, Emerson says that having a strong mental game can make or break a player.

“The mental part is huge,” Emerson said. “There are so many components to this game. It’s physical and it’s mental. You are your own coach out there, you are your own referee. You have to deal with your opponents’ actions, and bad calls sometimes.”

Tennis teaches athletes how to overcome adversity.

“There is just so much that goes on in this sport that you don’t have a coach that tells you each time you do something wrong,” Emerson said. “You’ve got to figure it out, and you’ve got to deal with the pressure of that ball coming back. Every time that ball comes back there is a certain amount of pressure, especially on big points and how they deal with that is very important too.”

In practices, Emerson breaks down each stroke.

“Technique is so important,” Emerson said. “I don’t want to teach one certain way. Each kid is individual in their own game so you kind of have to adapt to that. The wind and the sun are big factors and you’ve got to be aware of those because you switch ends every odd game.”

Emerson said he has enjoyed tennis, baseball and softball, but “tennis is just one of those sports that has a lot of emotion. You can be artistic out there, you can use your racquet as a paint brush if you will. As Jimmy Connors once said, “it’s boxing without the blood.”

Brad’s son, Chase, played tennis and graduated from SHS in 2010 and works in maintenance at the airport in Indianapolis. His daughter, Chelsea, is a school teacher and middle school volleyball coach in Bedford, and coaches gymnastics in Bloomington.

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