It’s easy to say that time moves quickly. College finishes in the blink of an eye, time flies when you’re having fun—both are notoriously trite proverbs. But how many people can say that 42 years have flown by that fast? Jim Chen has served as the head coach of Geneseo’s tennis team for 13 of his 42 years at Geneseo. “It’s been that long?” Chen remarked. For Chen, he explained that it doesn’t seem long ago that he was coaching his brother—not the team—as a child. Chen has played tennis all of his life, but explained that he found his niche coaching. “I have a brother who played international soccer; I wasn’t given his same physical attributes,” he said. “I actually coached him. I looked at what a player should be able to do and realized that was my forte.”
Athletics aren’t Chen’s only strong suit, however. His academic accolades are numerous, as one would expect of a physicist who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1969. After finishing his studies, Chen became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a physics professor at Geneseo in 1973.
Before Geneseo, Chen explained that his strenuous career was beginning to take its toll on him. “I was living in the labs. I didn’t see my family very much because of all the cutting-edge research I was doing,” he said. “It can be tiring not seeing your family very much.” The choice was an easy one: to come to Geneseo where he could spend half his time teaching and his other half on research.
Soon after his career at Geneseo began, Chen became the head coach of the tennis team. Since then, Chen has won four of the last five SUNYAC Coach of the Year awards and a record coming into this season of 138-40—a win percentage of .775. His physics background comes into play when teaching the team the strategies and the mechanics of the game.
“Let me tell you, I know the dimensions of the court and I know how the ball behaves when it is struck by the racket,” Chen said. “I know the physics of topspin, the physics of underspin. It greatly helps to understand this.”
Just as Chen appreciates the academic values in tennis, he stressed that his players should become “students of the game.”
“You need to have the mindset that you’re going to learn and improve. It’s crucial … but the other part that I ask is that they’ve got to have fun doing it,” Chen said. “It’s such an important ingredient.” In return, Chen always executes the drills he develops himself before having his players perform them.
This same motivation Chen has for his team is emphasized by his humble mentality that the players make the team, not him. “The most satisfaction I get from this job is from looking at what the alumni are doing,” Chen said. “What we did for them was improve their tactics and their strategies. Our teams include players like Lauren Johnson, Julia Passik, Katie Gayvert, Minxuan Yuan, Monica Vieth, Sarah Shields, Marylen Santos and Cathryn Crummey … how they matured as people, that’s why I love this job. To see the joy on the players’ faces—you can’t beat that. It comes from working hard—we really work hard to do well.”
The Knights have finished the regular season and will start the NCAA Tournament on May 8.