The Yale women’s tennis team begins its 2016–17 season with its third head coach in as many years. But this year’s head coach, Danielle McNamara, is no stranger to the Yale athletic department. McNamara coached the Bulldogs for eight seasons, posting a 56–10 overall record and winning three Ivy League championships, before leaving in 2014 to take a head coaching position at the University of Texas for one season. McNamara, now back in New Haven for her ninth season at Yale after a year off from coaching, spoke with the News about her decision to return to Yale and plans for the season ahead.
Q: What went into your decision-making process that led you back to the Yale head coaching job?
A: College coaching is a real passion of mine — I love working with young women and having a positive impact on them as people and players. I realized during my time away from Yale it wasn’t just coaching I missed, it was the players and the people here. I couldn’t believe there might possibly be the opportunity for me to return here.
Q: How did your experiences at Texas change or enhance your coaching strategies, and how will you apply that experience to coaching again at Yale?
A: Texas is different in a lot of ways, the school itself and the athletic director are very different. It was an interesting experience, and I learned a lot there about why I loved coaching: relationships with young women and the ability to help them grow. Because of what that program needed at that point to take the jump to where it was possible to get to, it was not the right fit [for me] with the amount of international travel, and me having young kids. I was missing coaching and wanting to get back into it with the right fit.
Q: Given that you recruited the current junior and senior classes at Yale and coached the senior class when they were freshmen, what is it like to be back with them?
A: I haven’t spent nearly enough time with them yet since it’s still early in the year, but I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work with them again, get back on the court with those I recruited and even those that I didn’t — just getting to build on those relationships and build new relationships with others.
Q: In the final Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings last spring, the Ivy League was the only conference in the nation to have all of its teams ranked. How will you adjust your approach to coaching in the Ivy League with the overall improvement of the league’s level of competition in the past few years?
A: I don’t know that it will change my approach, but I think [the increase in level of play] is great. One of the things we need is a strong conference so that our matches in April can be more valuable wins. It’ll help more teams get into the tournament and helpful in terms of exposure. It was pretty competitive a few years ago, so we’ll approach it the same way that we did and rise to the challenge.
Q: How will you and the team approach this season from a mental standpoint, given last year’s 8–13 overall record and the effects of the recent coaching carousel?
A: I had a chance this summer to talk with all the players on the phone and receive lots of feedback from them … One of the biggest things we’ll focus on is developing a team culture and team chemistry, understanding what it means to be a part of the women’s tennis team. What do we stand for, what are we all about, on the court and off the court — so much more than just hitting forehands and backhands. That’s critical to the success of a program, and it starts now. I think that will make a really big difference. It will be really fun.
Q: How will you take advantage of the months of training that lead up to the Ivy League schedule?
A: It’s kind of an art. You have to have a good finger on the pulse of the team and know what needs to be worked on. The fall will be relatively new and will be a lot of assessing and coming up with developmental plans, which I’ll develop throughout the year with constant evaluation and work and tracking progress. We want to be playing our best at the end of the season … we’re taking the early part of the season to get match tough and mentally tough, emotionally tough. We’ll have a process approach to everything.
Q: Finally, any goals for the coming season or the years ahead?
A: I don’t spend very much time thinking about performance or outcome goals. What I’m most focused on in the short term is getting to know players and forming relationships. If at the end of the year we can look back and say everyone grew and improved as a tennis player and individual, we can be the best version of each of us — that is a huge step forward. Ask any player, what does Yale Women’s Tennis stand for, and you can tell that we share a common vision, common values, and all bought into that together. That would be huge for us. We’d know that the foundation has been laid, and in terms of results, I’m confident we can return to Ivy League championship caliber.