Simply put … Dick Gould is college tennis and a living legend. He was the Stanford men’s tennis head coach for 38-years before becoming the John L. Hinds Director of Tennis at Stanford for the last nine years. Coach Gould’s career credentials are legendary. His teams won 17 NCAA team championships and he was the college coach of 50 All-Americans, 16 Davis Cup team members, 13 different Grand Slam Champions and eight Olympians. He was the ITA/Wilson Coach of the Decade for both the 1980s and 1990s.
He was also my tennis coach in college and helped me develop as a tennis player, coach and human-being. Many times, situations in tennis arise now where I ask myself, “What would Coach do in this situation?” I cannot remember a time that the answer wasn’t correct. He is all class. No matter how difficult an opposing player or coach was personality-wise, he was always complementary and respectful towards them or the media. He wouldn’t let anyone change these traits in him. I find myself trying very hard to emulate, but not yet able to completely duplicate him in this regard.
Dick is definitely qualified to give his views on the overall college tennis landscape and provide advice to aspiring college players. We are lucky to hear what he has to say …
What do you love about college tennis?
Gould: I love the age group that college coaches work with … the players know it all, yet know so little! The fact that college players are just about at the peak of their physical growth and thus are no longer held back by what they can do relative to size and strength! I also enjoy the thrill of the battle—the pre-match expectations, the momentum sways back and forth in each match, the fact that one can "coach" point-by-point in a match and can thus REALLY help a player tactically, technically and mentally. A coach in a college match can have a big impact on the outcome of a match, other things being nearly equal.
What are the major changes you have seen in college tennis over the last 40-years?
Gould: Technically, there are many more western forehand grips, as well as open stance forehands (and backhands). Since the western grip offers so much more topspin opportunities, one may stay back and pound the ball! Tactically, there has been the demise of serve-and-volley, as well as, serve return and get in … smash-mouth tennis! There is now an overall decreased confidence in being able to finish points at the net.
What if any future challenges are ahead for college tennis?
Gould: There are so many challenges starting with the fact that so many programs are continuing to be dropped. The biggest single challenge any coach faces is to be able to fund-raise for the long term to secure the place of his sport—especially amongst the men's programs! There MUST be a way to equalize the number of scholarships for men and women. Title IX MUST be interpreted as "equal opportunity for each gender within that sport." (Note: As Title IX currently exists, every college’s athletic program, not sport, must equalize the number of scholarships for men and women. Because so many scholarships are given for football, other sports have an unequal amount of scholarships for men and women to make up the difference.)
I am not sure how to handle this, but there are so many foreign players in college tennis. However, I do think we should stop complaining about it and make our American players better!
I also think our collegiate schedule is too full—there are too many events now! I don’t believe in succumbing to the pressure of four- to five-hour dual matches by shortening matches too much though! (Note: A proposal for Division I was made last year and since rescinded that would have made doubles matches one six-game set, as well as super tie-breakers for the third set of singles. Shortened changeovers and a shortened break between doubles and singles have been implemented changes. So has the elimination of the warm-up between opponents before singles and doubles.)
What advice do you have for junior players who are looking ahead to college tennis?
Gould: Keep as many options open as possible—start by taking challenging courses in high school/online and study hard!
Be realistic in investigating schools where you can realistically contribute! Don't get hung up on D-I, D-II or D-III there are great schools, coaches and programs at all levels!
I still preach to develop an attacking game—even in the era of big groundies. Look to get in and finish the point at net—in other words, stay ready for opportunities by playing up near the baseline and have confidence to pressure by attacking at all realistic times, even with an occasional serve and volley!
Learn doubles, an important part of college tennis, and in so, doing respect the value of a lob. Along with under-spin from the backcourt, it is the most under-used shot in tennis!
Do you have coaching advice for junior players and college players in general?
Gould: First … work VERY hard on net play skills and confidence at the net so that you have a means behind your big serve or forehand to finish the point!
Second, as I mentioned before, remember the value of a defensive lob, especially in doubles.
Third, work hard to develop a great down-the-line backhand to answer the inside-out forehand!
Fourth, love the game—you are not playing for your parents; you are playing to enjoy the competitive experience—in meeting the challenge of getting a little better in some phase of your game every day! In college, the "team" experience can be a great one, if structured correctly—embrace it!
Finally, have fun and don't take yourself too seriously.
Have you found anything that college freshman aren't prepared for when they arrive to college?
Gould: First, remember that you are in college to "learn" in the classroom and from association with you fellow students! You are NOT in college just to become a better tennis player! It is difficult to balance studies and social life with you tennis, just as it will be to later "succeed" as a parent, a spouse and in your job … you must accept and embrace this challenge!