Jeremy Schlitt: Building Excellence In A No-Cut Sport
|Jeremy Schlitt,Boys Tennis
Some high school coaches wouldn’t be too happy with the balancing act Jeremy Schlitt performs to do his job.As boys tennis coach at Arrowhead, Schlitt balances the demands of coaching a successful varsity program while serving as the head administrator of a program that has more than 70 athletes spread over four separate squads.
Tennis is a no-cut sport at Arrowhead. During the 2012 season, 75 boys picked up their racquets and took to the courts.
“We have the varsity, junior varsity and what we call JV Blue and JV Red,” he explains. “Everybody gets matches. Everybody gets playing time. We split the practice times up a bit to accommodate court times.”
Trust Is Vital
Schlitt can’t run the practices for all squads. So instead, he focuses his own coaching efforts on the varsity and relies on a cadre of assistant coaches to handle the other units.
“To make this work, you have to have a lot of faith in your assistant coaches, which I certainly do,” Schlitt says.
One of Schlitt’s assistants is his father, Ron, who was his high school coach at nearby Hartford High School. Jay Schneider also is a varsity assistant. Sherry Nutt is the JV coach. Aravind Arvindan has the JV Blue team (consisting of freshmen and sophomores who aren’t on the varsity or JV teams), and John Hart coaches the JV Red squad (made up of junior and senior players not on the varsity or JV squads).
“With Sherry and the JV, we’ll get together to start practice, but then we split up and they do their own thing,” Schlitt says, describing a typical practice day. “The Red and the Blue teams come at 4:30 to 6:30 a lot of days. I don’t really see John or Arvin that much. They run their show and take care of it their way. After the first week of tryouts and splitting into squads, they’re managing their teams.”
Schlitt does say that it can be difficult to put together a coaching staff of that size.
“Obviously, you want someone that’s qualified, that knows the game and knows how to coach,” he says. “But sometimes that’s tough to find. Once you do find them, you want to retain them.”
Schlitt is familiar with the role of assistant coaches. He serves as junior varsity coach for the girls’ program in the fall, and was an assistant in the boys’ program for five years before becoming head coach. He’s also a full-time teacher at the high school in the technology education area.
Finding and retaining those coaches means compromises for athletes and coaches.
“As an example, John works in Waukesha (a 20- to 30-minute drive from Arrowhead),” Schlitt says. “So he has to have later practices. That can be tougher on his players, but we try to tell them this is the time to get your homework done and do that type of thing.”
While coaching a no-cut sport means more work, Schlitt also says it’s a concept he supports.
“I wouldn’t want to be in the position where you have to cut players,” he says. “You can make someone hate the sport for life that way.”
The Next Level
At the same time Schlitt is trying to make sure tennis has something for everyone, he is committed to developing a strong varsity program. Arrowhead won the Classic 8 conference team tennis title the last two years in a row and three of the four years that Schlitt was head coach.
“We’ll have players every year that go to state (the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association State Tennis Meet) as individuals and as doubles teams,” Schlitt says. “We go and compete and compete well, but while I’ve been here we have not gone to state yet as a team.”
Arrowhead almost invariably winds up in the same section as some of Wisconsin’s perennial tennis powers, notably Marquette University High School, which claimed the last six consecutive team titles.
“There’s another whole tier of schools out there, but the whole idea is if we keep students interested and putting the time in, we can build that pipeline,” he says. “That’s what we need to do.”
Schlitt plans to take some new steps toward building that pipeline this summer.
“I’m taking over the summer tennis program we have here at Arrowhead,” he says. “As head coach, I’m trying to get some of the young children interested so that we have a feeder program coming in. I think the biggest thing for us to be competitive year to year is that you need the players playing year round and specializing.”
Schlitt says many of his top players already play year round, going to tournaments and tennis camps. He hopes that the summer program offers opportunities and serves as a bridge between varsity and those who might be just a cut below, but would like to step up to the next level.
“How you get to that level is playing in tournaments and participating in the summer and winter programs,” he says. “We are trying to put something like that in place—not to take athletes out of tennis programs they’re already in—but for those children who won’t necessarily get to those other things. We want to be able to tell them we have it here, so let’s get you involved.”
While the demands of administering such a big program seem daunting, Schlitt says he gets strong support from the Arrowhead athletic administration, parents and past participants in the program. That support is one of the ways he measures his success as a coach.
“Obviously, we set team goals at the beginning of the year, then look back and see what we’ve done,” he says. “That’s one measuring stick. But at the same time, if you have parents and also players that come back year after year and want to be part of the program, that means we had a positive impact on that student, that family. That’s another measure of success.”