ST. GEORGE — After four years of coaching tennis at Desert Hills high school – four years with the girls and three with the boys – National High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Famer David Smith will be retiring.
Smith led the girls program to their fifth straight Region 9 title this season and a state championship, while the boys program won the region title in 2018.
“There are many factors that made it seem like the right time,” Smith told St. George News. “Obviously this COVID-19 and the uncertainty of what’s going to happen in the future. Part of this is my father passed away at 55 years of age two weeks into his retirement. I’m almost 62 here, and I felt maybe it was time to give these teams a younger, enthusiastic coach. Not that I am not enthusiastic, but there were just a lot of factors.”
Smith said he feels like he’s leaving a solid program for the next coach, but it’s still hard for him to leave before some of his returning players’ final season. Tia Turley, for example, was named the statewide tennis player of the year as a junior and will be returning for her senior season next school year.
However, on the opposite side of the same coin, one thing he said he was happy about is the fact that he is not retiring after all of his best players have graduated, as some coaches have done.
“I hope it shows how much I care about the program,” Smith said of leaving the program on a successful path. “When I stepped in, I think the team had won one region title in the last six years and had not been to state at all. My girls have won 60 consecutive matches without a loss. The boys have won 44 with only three losses.”
It seems that wherever Smith goes, success follows. He left La Quinta High School in California after winning 399 consecutive matches without a loss. He then went to Arizona, where he coached a year at Tolleson High School followed by a successful tenure at Aguafreia High School, where his teams went 300-22 combined.
At Desert Hills, both the girls and the boys program often played together, and he said this is something that helped build the programs. The culture that has been established at Desert Hills is something that Smith is proud of, and it is not just built around winning.
“I was probably most proud of the fact that our teams had a true or sincere culture of not just winning … but of being there for each other – of partnering and of seeing each other,” Smith said. “I’m sure there was still drama, but for the most part these kids loved each other. They loved playing together. They loved practicing together. They loved working hard, and the fruits of that labor produced these good success numbers.”
As for Smith’s fondest memory at Desert Hills, he said it has been spending time with his players off the court – sitting down for dinner with his team or driving to matches and talking with his players about their dreams and goals.
The biggest thing he hopes to have left with the Thunder tennis program is a sense of belief that they could be state champions and region champions. When Smith stepped in as the girls head coach four years ago, he told them they would win a state championship, and after two close misses, they finally broke the seal in 2019.
Smith said he always believed they would be the best team. This was something he carried with him through his tenure as a head coach. His goal was to instill this belief in his players and his teams.
“I hope that these players that are coming up continue to honor that belief in themselves and know that they are capable of being at the top,” he said. “I remember coming in, Park City had won state three years in a row. We kept improving, and we surpassed Park City in both the invitationals the last two years, and that showed the kids that we are the team to beat.”
Smith got emotional when talking about this belief as he mentioned that one of his players thanked him for believing in them when they did not believe in themselves.
Smith said he plans to step away from the program with the hope that he can give the new coach space to take over. If he were to be asked to be involved, he said he would be open to working with the Thunder. He has also trained a number of players exclusively and may continue to do so.
While his future role in teaching tennis to players has yet to be decided, Smith is looking to continue teaching other coaches.
He will be offering a six-hour workshop to coaches around the country in an effort to share what he has learned as a coach. He said he will be pursuing this more now that he will have the flexibility to do so.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.