April 24, 2014
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
There have been many great coaches in the history of the University of Michigan Athletic Department. On the men's side, you can go back to turn of the 20th century and start listing the greats of Michigan: Yost, Crisler, Keen, Fisher, Mann, Berenson, Schembechler just to name a few. For the women, you can go back to the 1970s when Title IX came into play, but quickly the names of Hutchins, Pankratz and Plocki come to the forefront.
These coaches along with many others have provided the University of Michigan with NCAA titles, Big Ten championships and other prestigious athletic awards. They have also played an integral role in helping young men and women become successful adults.
Now, one more women's head coach needs to be added to that list: Ronni Bernstein. On Sunday (April 20), the women's tennis team won its fifth consecutive Big Ten title, an achievement that is currently shared by only two other teams in the conference -- Michigan softball and Illinois men's golf! And Bernstein's team accomplished this feat in only her seventh season as head coach!
While many around the game of tennis know this Miami native as an excellent player, her name is now drawing attention as an outstanding teacher and coach. Plenty of top-ranked tennis players go on to teach and coach, but few go on to coach a college team. The dynamics of this type of relationship requires services beyond the X's and O's of the game.
Bernstein knows the sport of tennis. She was an outstanding junior tennis player who went on to the University of Miami to be a four-time ITA All-American and receive NCAA Senior Player of the Year honors in 1988. She played professionally on the WTA Tour for two years, winning the Virginia Slims of Puerto Rico doubles championship twice and being named Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year for Domino's Team Tennis.
Now, as the Wolverines' head coach, she has won five straight conference titles, and the future of the program looks even brighter.
All she talks about is her team, her staff and how lucky she is to be at the University of Michigan. She has made it comfortable to win, and her team has made it easy for the new players who arrive in Ann Arbor to understand what it takes to continue this program's growth.
It isn't easy to have one championship season after another. There is an element of luck involved. Players have to stay healthy, but luck isn't the overriding factor.
It's an entire process, a plan to help the student-athletes be the best they can be in all aspects of their lives. Tennis is just a small piece of the puzzle. It is how one can be a positive influence on one's life. It develops trust on and off the court. It is how you develop a team.
And learning the team aspect of tennis is not easy. Bernstein played more as an individual in juniors and in the pro ranks. The time she was part of a team was when she played at Miami, and those years were the most fun for her.
She learned her coaching technique from watching her college coach, Ian Duvenhage. With insight into the sport that became almost instinct, she then studied methods of how to build a successful, unified team.
Duvenhage, now the men's head coach at Vanderbilt, created an atmosphere that was more than just the X's and O's. The style was one Bernstein enjoyed and adapted. She formed a relationship with her coach, and now Bernstein forms relationships with her student-athletes. And as her relationship with Duvenhage continues to this day, her relationship with her players at Michigan continues beyond graduation.
Michigan's winningest women's doubles player of all-time, Brooke Bolender, said this about Bernstein:
"Ronni is important to me because she has really shown how to be a leader and head of the team completely selflessly. She continually reminds us that we are playing for each other and not for her, and I think that takes a really special coach to not only say that but truly mean it. She also has really brought back the joy of the sport for me. Tennis is a sport that can wear you down, but Ronni has really shown me why I fell in love with it so long ago."
It is easy to decipher exactly what Bernstein hopes to gain from this arrangement. She wants these student-athletes to get the most out of their college experience in a way that will help everyone grow and enjoy their time at the University of Michigan. She wants those student-athletes to have exactly what she had and enjoyed when she was in college.
And to do that, Bernstein knows these young women must rally behind each other on and off the court, committing themselves to be a part of something bigger themselves so they all can be part of "The Team, The Team, The Team."
It is a perfect recipe for the making of a great coach.
Good luck to Ronni and her team as they begin postseason play this week at the Big Ten Tournament before the team goes onto play in the NCAAs.