Updated: December 12, 2012 6:01AM
Chris Olson is in his 10th year teaching and coaching at Lincoln-Way East. He is the head coach for both the boys and girls varsity tennis teams. Olson is a graduate of Lincoln-Way High School (1998), Lewis University (2002) and Olivet Nazarene University (2006). He played tennis at Division II Lewis University.
How or why did you originally get into coaching?
I have always been very passionate about sports, and I believe it is a great character builder for young student-athletes, teaching them values of self-confidence, perseverance, and success which are so essential in today’s competitive world. Having played eight years of high school and collegiate tennis, I always knew that I wanted to complement my teaching (Advanced Placement U.S. History) with coaching extracurriculars.
Have you seen high school sports change over the last 10 years? If so, how?
Tennis has become a much more professional club and USTA sport than it was when I first started out playing. In the 1990s, I remember just meeting three or four days a week with my teammates at the local park district courts for hitting and playing. Today, in order to reach the highest levels of the sport, players need to play 12 months a year, challenge themselves to play USTA tournaments, and commit themselves to both group and private lessons at local tennis clubs in the area. There are many more great opportunities for kids today to gain that professional instruction than there ever was when I first started playing.
If you had free rein to do so, would you change anything about tennis (boys or girls) in the IHSA (rules change, classes)? High school sports in general?
With the IHSA, I would reduce the amount of time for high school players to compete in National USTA Tournaments during their high school season of competition. There are too many allowances for tennis players to compete away from their team during the course of the season. This detracts from the team atmosphere that is what high school tennis is all about. The area and the state have lost too many kids to USTA events during the season.
Any favorite game, memory, player, practice story?
There have been so many great championships and team success stories that I have been fortunate to be a part of. The perfect (36) All-East Boys Sectional Championships in 2009 and 2011, the string of 13 consecutive Boys and Girls Sectional Championships (2005-2011), the 38 consecutive SWSC Conference Team Dual Meet wins in Boys (2008-2012), and the All-State Players that we have had here at Lincoln-Way East (Michelle Perry, Leah Pascarella, Liz Exo, Jeremy Falbo, and Justin Dancu) are all tremendous memories that I proudly recollect.
Players like playing certain teams or opponents. Do you have a favorite match or rivalry to which you look forward?
We play one of the most competitive schedules in the southwest suburbs so yearly matchups against Lincoln-Way North, Homewood-Flossmoor, Sandburg, and Lockport are always ones that our kids look forward to during the season. We have some great coaches in the area who are always making strides with their programs, and it is a privilege to compete against them each season.
Do you look up to or model your coaching style after anyone (mentor, high school, college)?
Mr. Eric Byar, my high school tennis coach and current department chair in social science at LWE, has been a great friend and mentor over the years. My passions in both American history and tennis are dedicated to Eric, who has helped me greatly in my career.
What are you most proud of as a coach?
I am most proud of seeing the graduates of our program go on to college, begin their careers, and apply many of the life lessons of our sport to their individual lives. Tennis has provided me a great deal of motivation through the years and I am very grateful when graduates visit our courts and recollect stories and memories of their experiences as a Griffin. Tennis, very similar to our life experiences, is about the ups and downs. It is how we respond to adversity that teaches us those life lessons that makes us more prepared in our careers. Our program has always put our teammates and families first, which I’m very proud of given the individual nature of tennis.
As told to Tim O’Brien