This past Monday, Jim Thorpe tennis coach Norb Lienhard took the court to begin the season and may not have thought much about it. However, worthy of mention is the fact that this is his 15th season with the Lady Olympians and his 32nd straight season coaching a tennis team at Jim Thorpe.
The longevity of his stay with the school's tennis program is commendable and he sees it as a rewarding experience, no matter the amount of wins gained throughout the season.
"I truly love the game of tennis," Lienhard admits. "I love to pass that love of the sport on to the kids, as well."
The 2010 Fall Sports season will be his 15th season as the girls coach; but what adds to the accomplishment is that he also oversees the boys' tennis team in the spring sports season. This past spring, was Lienhard's 17th consecutive year coaching the boys team, making this his 32nd season where he's been coaching tennis.
In 1995, Lienhard took the reigns as the girls' tennis coach and has slowly guided the program in the right direction. Proof of this is in the number of participants involved with the sport. As time has gone by, those numbers have grown, and even though the sport is said to have been "dying" at times, the quantity of student-athletes involved at Jim Thorpe hasn't gone down and, if anything, continues to swell.
"It goes up and down, really," Lienhard referred to the overall interest in the sport. "It was dying off there for a little while, but then came back. Now, I think it's starting to go down again. My numbers are still there and going up."
From the time Lienhard started coaching the sport, one would think that some changes have taken place over the course of that time period, and they have...with the sport, and with Lienhard, as well.
"I've become much more of a patient person over those years," he mentioned. "It has given me more patience and I definitely wasn't as patient when I started. The time has shown me to see that the kids are trying, even though I don't always get the results that I may want. But I see it more so now, then what I used to."
As for the actual sport of tennis, not only do the players develop and evolve with time, but the sport seems to change, as well.
"I don't think the game physically, has changed too much," Lienhard says. "But the kids playing are becoming stronger and they hit the ball a lot harder than what they did back then. When I started coaching, I would try and get my players to beat their opponents by controlling the ball. But nowadays, they want to pound the ball and beat their opponent that way. I think that should be the last thing that players learn and bring into their games."
As a coach, there are some differences between the "Coach Lienhard" of then, versus the "Coach Lienhard" of 2010.
"I'm definitely more comfortable with my approach to the players," he stated. "I didn't know how the kids would take to me and my coaching back in that first season. But I don't have that at all anymore because the kids respect me and trust that I know what I'm talking about because of what I've done with the program in these 15 seasons."
When asked about any memorable moments he has had over the years, he recalls one vivid memory. "Back when I started coaching both the boys' and girls' teams here, I remember going up to one of the girl players that was crying on the court. I thought that something was severely wrong with her the way she was crying, but here, she had broken a nail and that made me realize a big difference between coaching boys and girls tennis," he joked. "The big difference between them, though is that the girls tend to listen to me more and try harder to correct their mistakes from the advice they are being given."
For a coach to remain with the same program for this long of a time period isn't too common and one has to wonder what Lienhard's secret is. Lienhard admits, "The kids have to want it and I always tell them that they are here for themselves. I try to make it fun for them, as well and once I get them a little interested, then it feeds off itself."
To be a coach, it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and time and effort to devote to the student-athletes' learning, development and training. In order to sacrifice this much of his own personal time and effort, Lienhard felt the need to thank some people.
"I have to thank my wife for sure," he quickly admitted. "If she didn't allow me to do it, I wouldn't. There were a lot of nights that I wasn't around, so she was a big help. Another person I want to thank is Dave Malkin, who was my first Athletic Director, and it was great to work with him and I owe him a lot. The present A.D., Dustin McAndrew is also a pleasure to work with and I thank all of them."
With the progression of the tennis program at Jim Thorpe, Lienhard has a lot to be looking forward to. Success will usually breed success and if that has any truth to it, look for the Lady Olympians to continue that progression of good tennis development in 2010.