In speaking to Jim Chen, the head coach of the Geneseo women's tennis team, one can't help but discover his zest for the game of tennis.
Chen, who became the team's head coach in 2002, even went as far as designing the school's tennis courts, right down to the color of the playing surface. While his love for the game of tennis began as a child, the path to becoming a coach was a completely unique experience.
Chen, who was the captain of his soccer team at Brandeis University, received his doctorate in physics from Harvard University in 1969. His graduate thesis asked the question, "Are the laws of physics the same in a universe where time goes backwards?"
He then went on to do what he called "Nobel laureate type research" for several years at prestigious institutions such as the Brookhaven Institute and the University of Pennsylvania. Chen said he became tired of the relentless pace of full-time research and, on a recommendation from another Geneseo professor, came here to teach physics and to be able to spend more time with his wife and three children.
"I grew tired of living out of airports," he said. "I was always on the road and my children were growing up without their father."
He taught for the physics department here at Geneseo for a number of years before taking a job in Empire State College's administration as the vice president of academic affairs. "I enjoyed it, I liked what I did but after awhile you have to return to your roots, and this is where my roots are," Chen said.
A big part of coming back to Geneseo was the support Chen knew he would receive. "They are extremely supportive, not only the athletic director, but all the coaches," Chen said. "We all support each other."
Another part of coaching here that Chen enjoys is the rapport that the tennis team shares with the men's basketball team. "It's really great," he said. "We support each other, the athletes go to each others' games and make signs."
One thing Chen pointed out was the vast difference between playing tennis and teaching it. He, however, learned with the best of the sport at the prestigious Bollettieri Academy in Florida. He noted that this academy has turned out international stars such as Andre Agassi. While there, Chen trained up to seven hours a day as a player and took the lessons he learned to create his own training strategy.
One of his favorite techniques is using the laws of physics to show his players how to put topspin on their shots. Mental toughness is a large part of his coaching strategy as well. If a player isn't playing well, he says to them, "What's going on?" Rather than a question, this is an acronym he uses to help his players get their minds back into their game. Each letter in the word "what's" stands for a part of their game he wants them to focus on.
Chen realizes that mental toughness isn't the only thing that can be taught. He noted how incredibly close the team is and how much time they spend together, from pizza parties to study groups.
According to NCAA rules, players are only allowed to practice as a team for a certain amount of days before school starts. Chen used those days to work on team chemistry and this has paid off for him. The women's tennis team is currently carrying a 34-0 regular season winning streak that has stretched over four seasons.
Though today he is a coach of one of the top Division III teams in the nation, Chen still considers himself a student of the game. "I tell my players I'm always learning something new, that the only way to learn is to play." Chen plays regularly in local tournaments and every Tuesday and Thursday morning on the tennis courts here with local community members.