By VINCE PELUSO
As a tennis standout at Geneva then Mount Union, Leslie Douglass knew what her calling in life was.
“It’s been my life dream, to teach and to coach,” she said.
Douglass has been teaching the game since she was a senior in high school and after setting a school record for wins in a career at Mount Union with 110 as both a singles and doubles player, she went on to assist Bob Walters boys tennis team at Lakeside.
This spring, Douglass will get her first crack at running her program when she takes over at Edgewood.
“It’s been my dream and taking over a program is just very exciting,” she said. “I’m young and excited. I feel like everything I’ve done up to this point as been leading to this.”
While men coaching girls teams is a fairly regular occurrence at any level, women coaching a boys team is a little less common.
But, Douglass said her experience at Lakeside was extremely beneficial as she takes over the Warriors’ program.
“It’s not been an issue at all,” she said. “I’ve helped at Lakeside under Coach Walters and just learned a tremendous amount from him. That experience and helping with the boys team really helped me gain confidence for being a woman working in a man’s sport so to speak.”
It doesn’t hurt that with Douglass’ pedigree on the court she could likely beat any player she’s coaching — regardless of gender.
While the weather has prevented Edgewood from going outside much so far this spring, she said in their limited opportunities she has mixed it up with some of the guys.
“I just spent two hours playing against them and a lot of people might not be able to do that and I think you can say and speak as much as you want, but actions are better than words,” she said. “I think being able to show them exactly what to do is beneficial.”
Another benefit that Douglass has was being a collegiate player.
In high school, players are limited to playing just singles or doubles, but in college, that is not the case.
“I think one of the big benefits of playing college tennis is that you can play both singles and doubles,” she said. “I have that experience of being able to play both, so I can bring that into the coaching world.”
As far as love of the game is concerned, few will have more passion for their sport than Douglass.
“I’ve been giving lessons since high school,” she said. “I started working at clubs as a senior and I worked through college. I did 14-hour days, just taking it all in. I literally lived, breathed, ate tennis so for me this is a dream come true.”
Coming into the program with little knowledge of what was done before her, Douglass said she didn’t try to change things as much as take what she had learned from her previous coaches and apply that at Edgewood.
She credited Walters, Phil Dubsky, Scott Torok and her college coaches as her top influences.
“I kind of came in and had no idea what was done before, it was a whole new thing for me,” she said. “I’ve just done what I’ve learned through the experiences of all the way back to when I was a kid I learned from Coach Dubsky then Mr. Torok in high school and my college coaches.
“The biggest one is Coach Walters, his coaching experience will help me tremendously with building the program. I’ll use that and the eight years of teaching tennis fundamentals I have.”
Sometimes coaches who were extremely talented players struggle to work with players of lesser talent.
Douglass admits that can be a challenge, but it isn’t something she’s overly concerned about.
“It’s difficult because I am the only coach, we weren’t able to find an assistant, so I’m working with 12 boys on one court,” she said. “So I’ll have one who has never touched a tennis racket and one who plays year round in tournaments. So it’s very difficult to have that huge spread, you have to pick the drills that reach out to everybody’s particular needs.
“But I think we have good communication and with this being my first time, the kids help me. They’ll say, ‘Coach, I wanna work on this, more they wanna work on that.’ And that helps me and the more we’re doing things that help their particular needs the more confident they’ll be.”
So far, so good for Douglass.
“It’s been good, they’re a great group of boys,” she said. “The weather has been a little rough, but we’ve been in the gym a lot and we’ve really been working on a lot of fundamentals. The kids have come a long way in three weeks.
“So I think it’ll be a good year and we’ll try to start off the Edgewood boys program the right way.”