“Sorry, but you didn’t make the team.”
Perhaps the most cutting news an adult can deliver to a child, it is something Mark Noel, who has been coaching high school tennis for more than 10 years, has never told a player.
Noel, the boys’ and girls’ tennis coach at Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Fla., was late in 2014 named to the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) No-Cut Coach All-Star Team, an honor bestowed on 13 exceptional high school coaches across the country who implemented “no-cut” tennis teams that welcomed all interested students.
A bit overwhelming? How can a program accept all comers, no matter what ability?
Besides the desire to see as many students as possible enjoy the game of tennis, Noel says it is hard to ignore the bottom line results — with a team of kids that don’t come from a tennis background, it helps him win matches.
“Not only did it relieve fear and anxiety from tryouts, it provided numbers of athletes to select from for the varsity team,” said Noel, who implemented a no-cut policy in 2004 in his first year of coaching in Tennessee. “Students bought into the concept and just learned the game of tennis, even if they could not manage a starting spot on the team.”
The no-cut policy allowed him to groom players who could not make the varsity team, but developed over the next couple years into top players, rather than leaving to pursue other sports. In his first four years of coaching, his boys’ and girls’ teams won a combined five district championships, a regional championship, and a trip to the state tournament.
“As a no-cut coach I learned that allowing all students that wished to play the equal opportunity to play tennis was a direct contributor to our success,” he says.
At Oak Ridge High in Orlando, a Title I school with limited funds for tennis, Noel was forced to build a program from the ground up in his first season in 2011-12. The school had only one tennis court with a blacktop surface. A public park four miles from the school served as the first multi-court site for the team, and Noel’s four-door Nissan Stanza as the first team vehicle, requiring multiple expeditions from the school to the courts to transport all the kids.
“In between trips from the high school to the courts, I instructed students on tennis, of which only one had ever picked up a racquet,” he said of that first season at Oak Ridge. “It was a memorable one as the boys team broke even at 7-7, winning against many teams that had established programs. The girls team was not as fortunate as they won only one match. But they did win! And no, I still did not cut one player!”
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Two years later, Noel’s teams have grown to more than a combined 40 players. His efforts and activism have also contributed to the construction of three news tennis courts in late 2013, courts that were dedicated by Noel and his players by everyone kissing the courts.
“It was a proud day for us,” he said. “The program continues to grow and our new-found three tennis courts provide ample room for practice. The season finished with a boys team record of 8-6, and for the first time the girls finished 9-5.”
Noel is one of 4,000 tennis coaches nationwide that have made a commitment in partnership with the USTA to offer a no-cut policy, with some programs including more than 100 players on a high school team.
“We could not have this chance if it were not for the support we have received from [school] administration and the community at large,” Noel says. “Through our no-cut policy, we continue to grow and make new friendships. We are able to share philosophies on life, and make real changes in lifetime goals. For us, it is not about winning or losing — and we certainly like to win — but it is about the character development of our student athletes.”
For access to a downloadable Student Club Guide featuring tips on delivering tennis to middle and high school athletes, click here.