Smiley makes impact with Cats’ tennis familyJuly 2, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — It takes many hands to make a successful sports program, and teams have to be selective about the coaches they bring on board. For the Jasper tennis teams, it seems the connection between Rahman Smiley and the Wildcats is a match made in heaven.
Smiley, who played tennis at Indiana University, came on with the Wildcats in 2014. He was working as a coach at Tipton Lakes in Columbus when he saw a listing Jasper put out for a full-time pro. He didn’t know anything about Jasper at first, but he learned about the high quality of its program and took a meeting with Wildcats coach Scott Yarbrough. He remembered clicking right off the bat with Yarbrough when they first met.
“There were two things I cared about,” Smiley said. “I wanted to be where it felt like people cared about me and my family. I wanted to have more control over what I did tennis-wise, and Scott gave me that control. He was like, ‘We want our program to be better, what do we do?’ I brought some different things he hadn’t thought about before. He brought some different things I hadn’t thought about before, and we just clicked right away.”
“The first thing that jumps out is he’s got a gleaming personality,” Yarbrough added. “He brought a lot of experience and was a very good tennis player in his high school [years] through college. That was exciting because he could hit with our better players. In tennis, we agreed in a lot of areas, like how doubles should be played and letting kids grow into their own [serving] motion. He’s a very laid back kind of guy, which works well with what we’re trying to do.”
Smiley is the Wildcats’ in-house professional tennis instructor and has worked with the boys and girls tennis teams for almost six seasons. He is not an official team coach, but has made his mark across many facets of Jasper’s tennis program. He puts on clinics with the teams when they are out of season, and is available to the in-season tennis players that want extra help outside of regular practice. He works with the coaches in summer camps, and teaches private lessons on the side.
Smiley has become an integral part of the Jasper tennis program. Yarbrough loves how he is able to easily connect with the players, and helps them accomplish whatever goals they have on the court. He’s developed personal relationships with players to where some feel comfortable talking to him about other things besides tennis.
“He’s got a big teddy bear personality,” Yarbrough said. “Rahman does a really good job of connecting with all levels and all ages.”
Smiley calls it an extension of how he was coached. He said players need to feel that their coaches care and are all in when it comes to their growth and development. Good things happen when that connection is made between players and coaches.
“I tell the kids all the time there’s nothing I do with them that I didn’t do with my coaches,” Smiley said. “The most important thing as a coach is to foster that relationship with those kids. You have to show an interest in them and that you believe in them. You have to show them that you care.”
Smiley also loves the way the Jasper community embraced him and his family when they first moved to town. Smiley’s wife Brandi was pregnant when he took the job, and he recalls community members flooding their home with food to support them.
“For weeks, people brought us food,” he said. “We never had to cook for weeks. They didn’t have to do that, but they did. That’s my favorite part about this program. It’s one big family.”
Smiley looks forward to getting back on the court with the players as soon as he can so they can work towards more success. Smiley did more than join a program, he found a second family with the Wildcats.
“Our best teams are ahead of us,” he said. “Scott and I believe we have kids that are good enough to win a state championship with the guys or girls. That’s the goal, and that’s what we work towards every year.”
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