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Coach Wallace Inspires HS Team

May 25, 2016 11:09 AM
Val Wallace, Junior Varsity Girl's Tennis Coach at Rockford High School
Craig and Val Wallace

Val Wallace, Junior Varsity Girl’s Tennis Coach at Rockford High School (Rockford, Mich.), says she loves coaching and especially enjoys helping her players overcome challenges.  “I love to find out how to coach each person as an individual.  I enjoy discovering what motivates them and how I can best serve them,” she said.  “The best part about coaching is when the student gets the ‘Aha’ moment, whether it’s learning a basic ground stroke or an advanced serve, or learning how to control their emotions. Knowing that I helped them through that struggle makes everything worthwhile!”

This may not sound different from most other coaches; most of them help their students overcome difficulties and strive to help them become better players and people.  However, Wallace is different than most coaches.  Wallace has unique challenges but continually serves as an inspiration to her players and to their parents.  That’s because Wallace spends much of her time coaching from her wheelchair.

Wallace does not consider herself at a disadvantage.  In fact, she shares her experiences with her team members hoping it will inspire them.  “I share feelings and situations that I know they can identify with. I believe this allows them to know they are not alone; it gives them permission to be human.”

“I have the unique situation where I sometimes coach from the chair or on my prosthetic,” said Wallace.  “This gives everyone an opportunity to see how different I am, and yet it doesn’t matter.  I feel this gives them the opportunity to be themselves no matter what.  I have heard the girls defend me to other players and this makes me feel good.  Parents respond to me as well.”

Wallace admits there have been times as a coach of an “able-bodied” team that she’s heard some negative remarks, but she says that most people are very accepting.

“The majority of people I deal with are very supportive and appreciative, especially when teaching the 10 and Under program,” said Wallace.  “The kids love pushing me around in my chair as I try to pick up more balls than them!  I use my prosthetic or wheelchair to help alleviate fears and misconceptions.”

Wallace admits she had her own fears about becoming a coach, but said that one of her Wheelchair Tennis coaches, Sue Katterburg, kept “working on” her.  Eventually, she accepted the opportunity to coach her son in middle school.  She then went on to coach at the Junior Varsity level and has been coaching for 8 seasons.

“I was concerned that I did not have the knowledge necessary, or the skills.  However, I quickly realized that I did and the kids totally accepted me, giving me the courage to continue to grow,” she said.

Wallace is continuing to challenge herself as a player as well.  She first started playing Wheelchair Tennis in 1981.  Prior to that she played casually with friends but then decided to play more.  Recently, she has been playing more competitively, increasing the number of tournaments she plays each year and taking time to play at least twice each week. Wallace says that coaching has made her a better player and she often reminds herself of her own words when on the court.

“When competing, I remember what I tell my team when they are nervous, which then helps me to calm down,” she said.  “On the technical side, I look for the line of the ball, trust my shots, and allow myself to have fun and stay relaxed.”

Having fun is one of the key components of Wallace’s coaching philosophy.  She says she enjoys hitting balls with her players, and they also have fun trying out her chair.  Even in these fun moments, Wallace is working to instill life-long lessons.

“Never give up and never let setbacks keep you from reaching your goals, and always have a sense of humor,” she said.  “I have always been a positive person and my coaching style truly reflects this.  I do demand a lot of my girls and they know what I expect, but I consider myself a ‘tough marshmallow’.  But over the years, I have had students come back and tell me how much I helped them.  I hope and pray that will never change!”


Val Wallace is the Girl’s Junior Varsity Tennis Coach at Rockford High School in Rockford, Mich.