Jeff Nelson…… Coach, Teacher, Friend
Great coaches are usually known for the
great tennis players they have coached. Jeff Nelson has coached
a considerable number of high school and college tennis players
in South Dakota, but he will be remembered mostly for the
friends he has made and the lives he has touched in the tennis
No one, especially Nelson, could have
realized what a path he was starting down when the Sioux Falls
College tennis team asked him to fill a tournament spot for an
injured player. Nelson, a cross country and track athlete, had
suffered an injury in a college Taekwondo class the previous
year and realized he couldn’t continue competitive running.
On the way to the tournament they were
teaching him how to keep score. A pretty inauspicious start to a
career that has touched the tennis lives of hundreds of adults
and even more students. Nelson became a student of tennis,
reading and studying as much as he could. He’d camp out at
Mckennan Park and local clubs to watch the best local players
compete. This eventually led him to getting his first formal
lessons from Dick Hahn at Woodlake Athletic Club.
The next two years, Nelson played on the
SFC tennis team and spent the summer months teaching for the
Sioux Falls Park and Recreation Dept and traveling around the
Midwest playing tournaments. Nelson figured out early in his
competitive career that the key to doubles was finding good
partners, such was Mike Hougland, Jenny Luke Jeffries and Nancy
Jeff’s friendship with Hahn and passion
for the game led Nelson to helping Hahn teach at Westward Ho
Country Club. Hahn taught him how to teach and run leagues.
After two years, Nelson worked in admissions at SFC, where he
also served as womens coach from 1983-1985. Over the next
twenty years, Nelson coaches the girls teams for both O’Gorman
and Lincoln, in addition to the mens and womens teams at North
Dakota State and Augustana. Eventually he returned to his alma
mater where he coached the USF Cougars to five NAIA national
appearances in eight years.
During those same years, he became
certified as USPTA professional 1 and PTR Professional and
taught at Southgate Racquet Club in Fargo, Fargo Country Club
and Woodlake Athletic Club. Since 1998, he has been tennis
director at Westward Ho Racquet Club.
During his 31 years of teaching and
coaching tennis, he was awarded the 2003 and 2004 NAIA Region
Coach of the Year, 2009 USTA Northern Section Frank Voigt Pro of
the Year, and 2010 USTA Northern JTT Organizer of the year. He
is past president of the Sioux Falls Tennis Association and SD
Tennis Association….all this after winning his first tennis
letters as a player his last two years in college.
Nelson continues to be involved in a
number of USTA programs, serving as a National Recreational
Coach and Quickstart Trainer, a USTA Northern National Zonal and
Intersectional Coach, Visiting Pro, USTA Officials Trainer,
Chair of the Junior Teamtennis committee and member of the
Northern Board Nominating Committee. He is also a member of the
Wilson’s “W” Team.
Although Nelson has a full resume of past
accomplishments and current involvements, that is not what he
talks about when he looks at his involvement in tennis. It is
the flujrry of tennis activity in the 80’s and 90’s when tennis
was a high point in Sioux Falls and Nelson was in the middle of
it. He was completely immersed in tennis during this time
either as a coach, a tennis pro, directing tournaments,
coordinating USTA adult leagues or played in USTA events with
students and friends. was at a high point in Sioux Falls and
Nelson was in the middle of it.
Nelson was completely immersed in tennis
during this time as he was coaching, working as a tennis
professional, working with USTA events, playing with students
and friends and helping set up social events for players in the
It started with Nelson playing tennis in
tournaments with some of the athletes he coached. He also played
with friend and mentor Dick Hahn and longtime Lincoln High
Tennis Coach Chris Dummermuth. He said he was always fortunate
to have friends who were better tennis players than he, and who
would play with him.
Nelson admits that he is “like a kid in a
candy store” when it comes to tournaments, as he loves to
compete. Among the tournaments he remembers most is winning the
Asfora South Dakota Open mixed doubles division with Chris. He
also is proud of the team of friends and former students on a
4.5 USTA team who was able to edge the favored team from
Minneapolis and go on to Tucson for the USTA Nationals.
Maybe it’s this competitive nature that he
is able to instill in many of those kids he was coaching. But he
says he has been working with unbelievably bright people. He
says he has no idea how many of his former students have gone on
to become doctors, lawyers and other professional careers. He
points out that nearly half of the young men he coached in
college went on to become youth ministers.
He makes note of these students, almost
like a proud father. Maybe because Nelson and his wife Muriel
haven’t had children of their own, many of those he instructed
were like his own children.
Nelson also created life-lasting
friendships with many of the hundreds of adults who formed the
social tennis community of the time. There were lots of people
who were involved in lessons and drills, and who liked to travel
to tournaments and to USTA events. There was also travel to
other area tennis clubs such as those in Sioux City and at
Okoboji for social tournaments.
Nelson says he will continue teaching and
coaching as long as his enthusiasm for tennis continues. And
that will be a long time as Nelson admits he is a student of the
sport and he is continuing to learn because the game is always
evolving. He says that talking with other coaches also helps
keep him fresh and he continues to learn how students learn.
Nelson says he would never teach the game
the way he learned it. This is probably a good thing as he
admits that Hahn describes his style as “good form in slow
As long as Nelson is physically able he
will continue teaching, but his other goals include playing in
the nationals in age group events, visiting all of the Grand
Slam events, and also increasing his officiating duties to the
point that he would officiate on the national tour.
All the while, he will be making new
friends and keeping people excited about tennis.