Every team needs a coach. A figure to help lead, teach, and inspire them to greatness. And sometimes being a familiar staple to the program can help gain success.
As head coach of the UW-Milwaukee women’s tennis team, Maddy Soule studied and competed for the team before translating her duties to coaching.
Despite spending several years in the Milwaukee area, Soule is not a Wisconsin native.
“I grew up in Hawaii,” Soule said. She started tennis as a young age, originally as a way spend time with family and friends.
“My dad was like a teaching professional at the resort. So everyday after school he would take me down to the local courts and we would hit. It was very casual the first few years.”
Soule said that playing in Hawaii allowed her to appreciate the game more than she otherwise might have.
“I think (Hawaii) definitely drew me to enjoy the game more because I played in such beautiful venues near the ocean and it was very enjoyable at that time. I played at local courts with all of my parents friends and it was a very fun thing to do on weekends.”
All the playful hard work paid off very quickly for Soule, as she excelled in statewide rankings.
“I was always highly ranked,” Soule said. “I was number one in the 10-12s, and then I was number one in the 14s when I was 11, because you’re so isolated in Hawaii.”
Despite loving the island state and exceeding at the sport in Hawaii, Soule said her mother suggested to her that it could only get her so far.
“My mom said that ‘if you really want to pursue tennis and play college, then we’ll probably need to move to the mainland,’ which is what we called it,” Soule explained. “I decided that the most affordable option was to train at a tennis academy.”
Soule said she was able to choose where she wanted to continue training, and decided that Texas was the best fit.
“I dormed there for a year,” Soule said. “My freshman year of high school I lived there on my own and eventually, like a year and a half later, my mom moved over and I moved in with her. I continued training at the academy for all of high school.”
Soule felt comfortable moving to the mainland, and didn’t feel pressured from her success in Hawaii.
“I guess when I made the move I didn’t feel pressure yet because I was younger and in Hawaii my parents put zero pressure on me,” Soule said. “Eventually, I was exposed to the high level (at) Texas and national tennis and worked hard to continue to be top ranked.”
After finished high school, Soule chose to attend UW-Milwaukee. She competed with the team three years, after spending a season at the University of Montana. Soule ended her career as a leader in many stats categories for the Panthers.
Soule left with the most singles match wins (71), highest career singles winning percentage (.689), and career total wins (140). These records later were broken by other players.
Soule, however, still holds many records for the Panthers: tied most singles wins per season (25), tied most singles matches per season (38), top two most doubles wins per season with Christina Colarossi (29 and 24), tied most doubles matches per season (36), highest career doubles winning percentage (.683), and tied highest doubles winning percentage per season (.823). Soule owns the record for season total wins, claiming the top two spots with 51 and 49. Soule also has the highest career winning percentage with (.687).
Soule said that she had several memorable moments during her career, but one thing in particular stood out to her.
“I think I really reached a level of performance and success that I didn’t really ever know that I could or would, so I was just proud to have done that. (I) felt good about that.”
One win in particular though came to mind afterwards.
“I think beating Madison’s number one was my biggest win, at least one of them. (That one) felt good,” Soule said.
After a very successful collegiate tennis career, Soule decided to attend graduate school. At the time, she also was the team’s assistant coach. Even though she still stayed active with the team, she never thought it would be more than in an advisory capacity.
“I never intended to (coach),” Soule said. “I was working on my graduate degree and simultaneously assistant coaching to pay for it, and the coach at the time got let go so they asked me if I wanted to take the interim head coach position. I had a lot going on. I was a full time grad student, I had a practicum, but I didn’t really see another option because I felt a level of loyalty and allegiance to the girls and I didn’t want them to have a makeshift coach. So I took it on.”
Soule said that after taking the job, things calmed down.
“Once I was done with grad school, I was just coaching and I enjoyed it and got better at it.”
Being a once student athlete is one of the reasons why Soule thinks that she was able to coach the Panthers as well as she has, having experienced the preparation, grinding, and hard work needed to succeed at a collegiate tennis level.
“I think, first and foremost, I understand what it’s like. What the emotions are like, what the competition is like, what being a student athlete entails on a deeper level. So that’s made me have a certain level of communication and closeness to the team, and vice versa.”
Soule did say that she had to be weary of how she sometimes handles situations as a coach, which can be different from coaching.
“I’m a perfectionist, and I was when I played, so I have to be careful and make sure that I’m rewarding and at the same pace critiquing constructively and it’s been finding a balance as a once player, new coach, young coach, etcetera.”
Beginning her second season as head coach, Soule said she was looking forward to the fresh faces joining the team starting in the fall.
“Almost half the team is new, so I’m looking forward to seeing the girls develop new friendships, and it’s always (great) when you bring in the girls and they mend and are friendly and have fun together, because these are the people they’ll have lifetime relationships with and it’s nice to just being part of facilitating that.”
Being the head coach, Soule believes that it is her role that impacts players on, but even more so, off the court, which is where she hopes to help her players achieve.
“As a head coach you play a role in developing a player not only on the court, but off the court, and you’re able to teach them things that they will take with them for the rest of their life,” Soule said. “If you teach them to take on competition and adversity and stuff of that nature and you’re able to achieve that on a tennis court, it definitely sticks with them in different facets of life.”
Even though winning is the goal in sport and in life, losing can often be the greatest stepping stone in achieving that.
“I think learning from failure is one of the greatest things that you can do. Definitely in college tennis, you’re gonna lose,” Soule explained. “You’re gonna lose heartbreaking matches, and just helping the (girls) articulate what that means and how they can use it in the future is something that 18, 19 years olds need to learn.”
Professional tennis player Stan Wawrinka, of Switzerland, seems to already have discovered Soule’s belief in learning from failure, sporting a tattoo reciting a quote from Irish poet Samuel Beckett: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
As long as you’re striving forward, and failing better, you’re still succeeding, as Soule strives to achieve with her team. To help them improve, in tennis, and in life.