Where Are They Now: Taka Bertrand

Jan. 15, 2013

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Taka Bertrand
Tennis • 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008

Just five years ago, Taka Bertrand capped her illustrious Vanderbilt tennis career by becoming the program's all-time leader in career singles wins (124). Since graduating in 2008 with a degree in economics, Bertrand has made a seamless transition from college to the ITF pro tennis circuit and recently to the coaching ranks.

Coaching was not a serious career option for Bertrand while she was at Vanderbilt, but after an opportunity arose where she could get her master's degree and coach at the same time, she jumped at it. The decision began a rapid ascent through the coaching ranks, beginning as an assistant at the University of Chicago to the head coach at St. John's University in New York, where she is today.

"I guess you just kind of go with the flow and kind of find yourself along the way," Bertrand said of her unexpected foray into the coaching world.

Upon graduating from Vanderbilt, Bertrand tried her craft at the professional level and moved to as high as No. 602 in the world in singles and No. 587 in doubles. But after a year of professional tennis, she elected to return to school to earn her master's degree.

"I took the GMAT and was ready to apply to business school and then this opportunity popped up (at the University of) Chicago and they were offering for me to do a master's there while being the assistant coach for the men's and women's tennis team," Bertrand explained.

Bertrand jumped at the opportunity and spent her days coaching, studying and traveling with the teams. Bertrand's plate got even fuller before the 2011-12 season when the head coach at the university left for another job. Just 25 at the time, Bertrand was appointed interim head coach of the men's and women's teams in late August.

She helped Chicago's women's team finish runner-up at the NCAA Championships in 2012, but was not a candidate for the full time head coaching position because it required a master's degree, which Bertrand had not completed at the time of the hiring.

Instead, she turned her attention elsewhere and was able to land a Division I head coaching job at St. John's at the age of 26. VUCommodores.com recently caught up with the 2006 SEC Player of the Year and asked her about the challenges of being a young coach, the adjustment from playing to coaching and more.

VUCommodores.com: How much of a challenge is it to coach student-athletes at such a young age?
Taka Bertrand: When I actually started at (the University of) Chicago there was one player on the men's team that was actually older than me. It is definitely a hurdle for me, especially with recruiting. I have to be extremely professional, I try to keep a very professional, but approachable relationship with the girls.

Are there times when you wish you were older?
There are times definitely when I think to myself that if I was 40 or a bit older with more coaching experience that they would listen to me differently or talk to me differently. You have to try to be approachable, but very professional, especially with recruiting when I am talking to parents about taking care of their 17- or 18-year old daughter. They are sending them over to someone who is 26. So it is very important that I be mature and be professional and organized. My age is certainly a challenge and it is something I can't fix. I know in time when I get more experience, I will get more comfortable.

Did you ever think coaching would be an option for you?
Truthfully, I never really saw myself doing this when I was an undergrad. I did envision myself doing a (graduate assistantship). But I didn't really see myself doing this longterm, although I do now.

How difficult of an adjustment was it to go from playing to coaching?
I would definitely say it was eye-opening. When you are a player it is hard to articulate why you do things you do on the court and I think becoming a coach is much different. You have to try and encourage the girls to play their own game and try to develop them based on their ability. I think the mistake I made initially was trying to get the girls to play the way that I did.

Do you have more of an appreciation for what coaches deal with on a day-to-day basis now compared to when you were a student-athlete?
Absolutely. There are so many different roles in this job. I feel like I spend just as much time doing things off the court than I do coaching on the court. It's a tough job, but it is really enjoyable and fun because I still get to travel and be involved in the game. I always joke that the girls see me for two hours of the day as their tennis coach and they really don't see what goes on from 9 a.m. until practice and then after practice. It takes a lot to run the show



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