Ask the Experts
Top Player to Top Coach: Georgia Tech's Bryan Shelton
by Colette Lewis
, 8 April 2010
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Bryan Shelton's résumé as a player, both in college and on the professional tour is impressive. He was an All-American at Georgia Tech in the late 80s and a regular participant in the four majors during his nine-year professional career, reaching a career-high ATP ranking of 55 in 1992. But after a short stint as a USTA Player Development coach, in 1999 Shelton returned to his alma mater to lead the women's program, and in that role has eclipsed even the considerable accomplishments of his playing days.
The Georgia Tech women had never qualified for the NCAA tournament until 2000, his first year as head coach, and have earned selection every year since, reaching the Sweet 16 the past five years. Shelton delivered the school's first NCAA team championship (the football titles Georgia Tech has won are not NCAA championships) in 2007, the same year the Yellow Jackets captured their first of two consecutive ITA Women's Team Indoor championships. In 2008, sophomore Amanda McDowell claimed the NCAA women's singles title, Tech's first individual national tennis championship.
During Shelton's quick recruiting trip to the recent Spring Nationals in Mobile, I had an opportunity to talk with him about player development, recruiting, and the challenges and rewards of coaching at the collegiate level.
Questions and Answers
Colette Lewis (CL): What are you looking for when you watch potential recruits during tournament play?
Bryan Shelton (BS): One thing is the foundation in their games, their technical development, footwork, just the basic things you look for in a tennis player - serve, return of serve, movement, how aggressively they play. At Georgia Tech, our style, what we try to promote, is an all-court game, so when we see players that slice, or players that move forward and come to the net, even if they're not executing it, but are willing to, that's something that draws us to those kinds of players. We feel that fits well into our system. And then attitude, composure, how many times do they look at Mom and Dad, or are they independent out on the court.
CL: How do you assess a player's likelihood of improvement? I'm thinking of someone like Amanda McDowell, who wasn't a blue chip recruit, but within two years had gone on to win an NCAA individual title.
BS: I think we were able to read her body language out on the court, and see that she was a focused individual, a focused player, who also had amazing fast twitch muscles. You could see the way she could rotate into a ball and generate racquet head speed, and hit a variety of shots. She wasn't just a banger, who hit a flat ball only. She could hit through the court, but she could hit heavy topspin. She just didn't know how quite to put it together in the juniors. We saw the tools that she had, and her ability to concentrate. She was very poised, even though she wasn't always sure what to do with the ball all the time. For us, that was a no-brainer.