A long-time tennis player and instructor, Ashley Kohlmeier is a Hoquiam native (HHS Class of 2004) who parlayed her love of the sport into an intrical part of her teaching — English and Technology — and coaching as the second-year Aberdeen High School girls tennis head coach. Kohlmeier graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a teaching credential. Kohlmeier was a four-year varsity tennis player at Hoquiam, a tennis instructor at WSU and coached boys and girls tennis at Renton High School while she was student-teaching. Her parents — Ed and Kerry — still live in Hoquiam and she has three brothers — Ryan, Deryck and Shane.
What was your exposure to tennis before becoming a head coach at Aberdeen? What are the challenges of coaching this sports at Aberdeen? How much recruiting do you have to do before the season for the team? From your past playing days, how is it different between then and now?
My first experience with tennis was with my Grandma Dorothy, my mom and aunts in grade school. My grandma was a spitfire who never said no to doing or trying anything. She played tennis with me well beyond when she should have. She even broke a hip and kept playing, insisting she was “just fine.” It was the first sport I tried as a kid that gave me confidence as an athlete. Since there weren’t any youth tennis programs at the time, I played recreationally until I joined the girls tennis team at Hoquiam High School in the fall of my freshman year. I was the only freshman to play on varsity. I played all four years of high school and was Team Captain my senior year.
Upon my return home with an abundance of new tennis knowledge, I sought to bring tennis to Grays Harbor. I started both youth and adult tennis programs through the YMCA of Grays Harbor. It was (and is) difficult to get people interested in a sport that isn’t very popular and depends on dry weather, but I definitely saw an increase in people asking about and playing tennis after I started those programs. I took over the girls tennis team at Aberdeen last year.
Tennis is a hard sell on the Harbor. The weather rarely cooperates and tennis often gets a bad rap as an elitist sport. I, however, have always viewed tennis as one of the few sports that one could play if they were 5 or 95. All you need is a racquet and a few tennis balls and you are set. It can be a fun, social game as well. Some of my closest friends have been made on a tennis court.
After taking the job at Aberdeen, I definitely felt a sense of “Oh, you’re from Aberdeen. It’s always raining there. You barely get any practices in, so you won’t be any competition for us.” I am working very hard to change that perspective. Being a teacher in the building this year has definitely been beneficial to recruiting and keeping a close eye on the athletes. It also helps build stronger relationships when you can interact on a day-to-day basis with your players in the classroom.
I recruited heavily before the season started. I took full advantage of the face time I had this year that I didn’t have last year. As a coach, I have the reputation of being someone who makes each player work hard to earn and keep their spot. I want the program to be taken seriously from the outside, and that starts by taking each other and each practice seriously. We laugh a lot, but we work hard while we are laughing.
Tennis and high school in general have changed drastically in the last 10 years since I was a student-athlete. It’s much more difficult to get kids to “buy in” to what you are doing now. There are a lot of other distractions that are perceived as important that I didn’t have to face 10 years ago. When I played tennis I was typically the last one on the court at the end of a practice, begging someone to stay and hit with me. The mentality that hard work is actually worth the effort and the outcome is not as common as it once was. Thankfully, I am blessed to coach a team full of hard-working, kind-hearted, great young women.
What are some of the basics you want prospective tennis players to know before stepping onto the court? What parallels to coaching on the court and teaching in the classroom are there for you? Do you have any memorable moments from coaching you’d like to share?
The first thing that anyone who picks up a tennis racquet should know is… it may take time, lots of time before it can be fun — especially if you possess a competitive nature. Patience is key when trying to learn the ins and outs of tennis. Just learning how to score and run a match takes several attempts before it starts to become second nature. As I always tell my girls, “If your feet are always moving, you’ve already won half the battle.” Tennis is discretely exhausting. Endurance is a major factor in winning or losing a match. More often than not, the player who can outlast and out-hustle their opponent will win the match.
I see tons of parallels between coaching and teaching. For me, personally, who I am as person is who I am as a teacher and a coach. I don’t go to work and put on my “teacher hat” or show up on the courts in my “coach hat.” At times, that might not be the best way to go about my job, but I firmly believe that if a student or athlete sees me as an ordinary person, who they can freely and openly communicate with, then we bypass a lot of potential problems.
My motto in the classroom and on the court aren’t that dissimilar: If you’re working hard, asking questions, showing some effort and having fun, then you’re going to be just fine.
My fondest memories from tennis are the silly times, laughing with the girls about nonsense. I also strive to appreciate the small victories. During our first match this year, a new varsity doubles team, Jade Caskey and Briana Mao-Barry, had just lost their first set 4-6. They came over to visit with me in between sets. They raced over with huge smiles on their faces, out of breath, and Jade says, “Coach, we got this. We are just getting started. That was so much fun!” They ended up winning the last two sets and the match. That has been a defining moment for our team and me as a coach this year. With players like that, it’s hard to have a bad day at work.
Away from the court and the classroom, what hobbies/activities do you participate in? Who are your favorite pro tennis players (past and present)? What is one thing you’d like to accomplish when you are coaching girls tennis at Aberdeen? And, what is the one thing you’d like to accomplish away from coaching?
When I am not at school or on the tennis court I spend a lot of time with my amazing family. I am lucky to have great parents, ridiculously awesome brothers and several aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins close by. We have more family gatherings in a month than most people have in a year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.We watch and play a lot of sports and games. Growing up with three brothers and a dad who were all sports nuts, I didn’t stand a chance to turn out much differently. I am lucky to have a best friend in my youngest brother, Shane. He is the best person I know.