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College Spotlight: Amy Bryant, Emory Head Coach

October 21, 2014 01:43 PM

By Sally Milano, USTA.com

Amy Bryant has served as head coach of the Emory women's tennis team for the last 15 years and, during that time, has led the Eagles to five NCAA Division III National Championships (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2014), compiled an impressive .800 winning percentage and claimed her 300th career victory in the title game of the NCAA Division III Championships last May.

Prior to her tenure as coach, Bryant had a successful playing career at Emory, where the 1996 graduate led her team to the national championship her senior year and became the first women's player in school history to earn All-America honors in both singles and doubles. With her success as both a player and coach, Bryant is only the fifth person and the first female  in NCAA history, in any division, to have won the national team championship as both a player and coach.

Bryant, who was inducted into the Emory Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, resides in the Atlanta area with her husband and two sons. She recently answered questions for USTA.com in the latest College Spotlight.

USTA.com: Of your many coaching accomplishments – 300 career wins, five NCAA Division III championships, etc. – what would you say is the biggest highlight for you?

Amy Bryant: I try to focus on process-oriented milestones – not results. For example, we lost a number of tough matches to in-region opponents during the 2006 season. As we entered the postseason, our practice goals centered on how to beat those teams so we could advance to the Elite 8. Our players were incredibly focused in the weeks leading up to the anticipated rematches, and the hard work paid off. We ended up beating those two regional teams and winning the national championship to boot. The highlight of that year was witnessing the team’s relentless pursuit of its goal to avenge those two losses, not the actual championship itself.

USTA.com: When did you decide you wanted to be a tennis coach? Did you always know it's what you wanted to do?

Amy Bryant: In college, my teammates often said that I would make a good coach, but I had my heart set on becoming an athletic director. So, when I started working at Emory, I got involved in a little bit of everything to see what I liked. In my first year, I was the assistant soccer coach, assistant tennis coach and marketing intern, while attending graduate school. Mid-way through the year, the head women’s tennis coach left for personal reasons, and I was asked to step in as the interim head coach. Being the head coach turned out to be an incredible experience – and a great example of how being in the right place at the right time can help you to find the perfect career fit.

If I hadn’t been willing to put myself out there in a bunch of different roles when I first started, I might not have found my dream job at age 24. But since I did, 16 years later, I’m still happily in the same position, and I’m even more fulfilled by my career that I ever imagined possible.

USTA.com: What is your favorite part of coaching at the college level? The most challenging part?

Amy Bryant: My favorite part is seeing my players continue to be successful after graduation. They have become doctors, business professionals, lawyers, professors, counselors, moms and more. I keep an up-to-date collection of each alumna’s Emory Tennis reflection, and I refer to it often. The most challenging part is figuring out how to make an impact on each individual player because everyone responds to coaching differently. Some players need positive reinforcement, while others require more “tough love.” Either way, once the key to making someone better is discovered, it can be a turning point in her personal development as well as her tennis game.

USTA.com: Did playing college tennis at Emory have an impact on your coaching philosophy?

Amy Bryant: I think playing college sports – soccer and tennis at Emory– provided me with insight into what was truly possible at a great academic institution like Emory. At the time of my college playing career, there was an underlying assumption that Division III student-athletes should strive for excellence in the classroom and merely participate in athletics as a supplement. As a player, that philosophy didn’t quite sit right with me. I continually found myself wanting more ... because I had the desire to be the best on the court AND in the classroom. It didn’t make sense that excellence would only be demanded in the classroom. True excellence pervades every aspect of a person’s life.

As a coach, I recruit the best and brightest players I can find who want to work hard in both the academic and athletic arenas. Similar to the excellence I strived for as a player, my goals as a coach are to take these top student-athletes to previously untapped depths so that they, too, can realize their potential. My teams endure rigorous conditioning sessions, afternoon weights and private lessons, in addition to daily team practices. Excellence is encouraged in the classroom as well as on the court. As a result, I believe Emory tennis players are better-rounded and more marketable graduates who continue to strive for the best in their future endeavors.

USTA.com: What do you see as the biggest challenges players face when they arrive on campus?

Amy Bryant: Getting into a healthy life routine is a challenge for every student on campus. That includes making good decisions about things, like eating, sleeping and socializing, without parental guidance. And, then of course, tennis players are coming from the world of junior tennis, where most tournaments are individually based events. This often leads to a period of transition, when players learn how to become members of a team unit.

For example, when you play a tournament as junior, you play until you lose, and then you go home. When you play as a team member for Emory, you stay until the last player on the team is finished, and you support that player as if you yourself were on the court competing. I believe that college tennis offers a more selfless approach to the sport, which can be instrumental in a player’s overall development in life.

USTA.com: Any advice for current players who want to go into college coaching?

Amy Bryant: Coaching is a multifaceted career. Only a small percentage of it actually involves the time spent on court with players. Other important aspects include mentoring and supporting student-athletes in all areas of their lives, recruiting, fundraising, facility maintenance and administrative work. For me, a huge part of the job is creating a family environment and positive team culture. Make sure you are comfortable with everything that is involved before you make the commitment to being a head coach. Your players will depend on you for a lot more than your tennis knowledge.




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