Most tennis players start playing as soon as they become taller than the racket, but Austin Lavallii didn’t start until the age of 15 and still managed to excel in the sport and coach it as well.
A Williamston, Michigan native, Lavallii transferred to NSU after attending University of Texas El Paso for one year. She then had a three-year tennis career at NSU that ended in the spring of 2013, when she graduated with a degree in sports management.
Lavallii was an accomplished player for NSU. She specialized in doubles play, where she was featured in the top draw as a senior. The following fall, she joined the coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
“When I went here, there was a different tennis head coach,” said Lavallii. “It was kind of a surprise to me because if I ever thought about coaching, it was going to be with the coach who was here when I was here.”
Lavallii’s job encompasses two roles, since tennis has no assistant coach, only a head coach, Steve Schram.
“So even though I’m the grad assistant, I’m an assistant as well because we’ve always been without an assistant coach in tennis,” said Lavallii.
With a small team such as tennis, where lots of emotions are involved, Lavallii’s duty entails making sure the players are getting along well and everything is running smoothly.
“Our girls are very respectful toward each other and caring about each other, so every little things mean a lot to them, which is good. But it also can be a challenge,” said Lavallii.
The fact that some of the players were once Lavallii’s teammates makes her job somewhat easier. Her proximity in age to them helps out a lot as well
Coaching allows Lavallii to still be around the game she loves without suffering from injuries, considering the long fall and spring seasons and the games that can get pretty lengthy.
“You can imagine running around when it’s 110 [degrees], and your shoes are boiling hot because you’re standing on concrete. So it’s more of a chronic pain than a physical pain,” said Lavallii.
Transitioning from playing to coaching has been a challenge for Lavallii because even though it’s the same sport, it’s a completely different approach. She recently earned her United States Professional Tennis Association certification that allows her to teach tennis to students at different clubs.
“It’s a lot of work. I had to take tests to make sure that I can teach a student everything there is to know about tennis,” said Lavallii.
A good attitude is the most important trait one can have in a sport such as tennis.
“Bad attitude is contagious; it’ll bring everything around you down, especially being in a leadership role. When the coach is feeling a little down, everyone feels it,” said Lavallii.
Lavallii’s coaching style can be described as adaptive because tennis is an individual sport. She tries to do as much as she can to compensate for the plays, since it’s mainly their first time being on a team. It’s important for her to make sure that they know what’s expected of them and what to expect in return.
“I try to adapt the words I use and the way I say them, and [the same goes with] visuals, depending on who they are,” said Lavallii. “The most important thing for me is to make sure that I understand what works for them.”
Humor is also a big part of Lavallii’s personality as a coach. Along with her confidence and effective communication, the team is always motivated to do their best.
“I speak to them a lot, but I try to make it short and sweet,” she said. “If I know that there’s someone I need to single out, I don’t do it in front of the others.”
Lavallii is a role model to the team through her fairness and respect. Although she does rely on negative feedback, she makes her comments realistic so that she’s neither flattering nor degrading the athletes.
“A lot of times, I try to make it as positive as possible, but you can only say that so many times. If I say it more than three times, then I’ll just be very blunt about it,” she said. “I try to think about how it would make me feel.”
Lavallii was raised in a way that made her more prepared for situations that a lot of people aren’t prepared for. Her parents are the most influential people in her life.
“My motivation comes from my family and the way I was raised. My dad was part of the Navy and had us on our toes most of the time,” said Lavallii. “He would wake us up at 5 a.m. and have us run to the tree and back in the middle of the snow. He wanted to see how we would react.”
When Lavallii is not spending time with her family, doing CrossFit or on the tennis court or in the office, she likes to spend time with her French bull dog, Willis.
“I got him registered as a service animal. When we go volunteering, I take him with me, and the boys and girls just love him,” said Lavallii.
Lavallii is definitely on course for coaching as career and plans to stay in Florida after completing her graduate degree next fall.
Photo Credit: COURTESY OF J. FRAYSURE