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Coach Jason Hayes shows no regret in career

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Head women’s tennis Coach Jason Hayes has no regrets. It would be hard to regret a life of mostly highs, including a victorious career. His personal connection with players, dedication, honesty and most of all passion for the sport, has made the Lady Lion’s a prime team in the Southland Conference for 12 seasons under his instruction. The Paris, Kentucky native previously travelled overseas to coach in Europe before becoming a member of the Lion nation. It was at Southeastern that Hayes earned eight Coach of the Year awards, including being the second person in the history of the Southland Conference to be named both the Men’s and Women’s Tennis Coach of the Year in the same season. Both the Lions and Lady Lions tennis teams have a combined 49 All-Southland Conference and 37 All-Louisiana selections. 


The Lion’s Roar: What was your childhood like?

Jason Hayes: I was fortunate to grow up in a subdivision that had 15 to 20 kids around the same age group, so we played all the sports growing up and tennis is the one that just intrigued me the most. Fortunately, I had a bunch of people to play it with.


TLR: Why are you so intrigued by the game of tennis? What do you love about it?

JH: I love the one-on-one aspect of the game, there’s just something about that level of competition that separates it from team sports. 


TLR: Did you know when you graduated from Cumberland in 1996, where you earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education, that you wanted to be a tennis coach?

JH: Absolutely, I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to follow my dream. I think it’s important to find something that makes you happy and then to pursue it as a career because you don’t want to be miserable every day when you wake up. 


TLR: What is your method of recruiting players?

JH: I tell every recruit that I’ll always be 100% honest with them even if it hurts our chances of getting them. I also believe in selling what we have to offer because Southeastern is a great university in a fantastic area that is supported by the community. This is a really special place and I think it’s important for the recruits to see Southeastern because once you visit our campus, you want to pursue your degree here.  


TLR: What was your experience like coaching in Europe in 1988? 

JH: It was a fantastic experience to get paid to travel through Europe to get to see London, Paris and Rome. It was a great summer and I got paid. 


TLR: What’s the hardest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

JH: It may seem odd, but my size is my biggest obstacle. Most people don’t think of a tennis coach being 6’6 and 300 pounds, so I’ve had to fight that obstacle.  


TLR: Why did you decide to begin coaching at Southeastern? How did this come about?

JH: I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach at Southeastern, I’ve had opportunities to leave, some for more money, but I love it here.  I just couldn’t imagine coaching anywhere else, it’s such a great place to work.


TLR: How have you felt about the current season so far?

JH: I’m extremely happy with how the season is progressing. We had some good wins, we’ve had some tough losses, but the girls are so focused and committed to what we’re doing, it makes my job very easy.  I think we’re going to be very successful, now I don’t know if that means a championship or not, but I know that when you have a team that is this self-motivated, you can only have success.


TLR: What do you feel has been the key to your success as a coach?

JH: It starts with the players. I’m not always the easiest person to play for, but they know that I care a great deal about them and want them to be successful and not just on the tennis court.  

I want this to be a great experience for them and we have a saying that ‘when it’s time to work, we will work and when it’s time to have fun, we will have fun.’ You have to remember to smile and laugh every day. 


TLR: What sports are you skilled in and/or have a passion for?

JH: I would say my three favorite sports are football, tennis and golf.


TLR: What other interests do you have besides sports?

JH: Movies are probably my biggest interest outside of sports. I enjoy anything with a good story and great acting.


TLR: How have your experiences varied coaching men’s and women’s teams? How were they similar?

JH: When we had both programs you had to treat both of them differently, although I was the same, I do miss parts of men’s tennis, but I do think that my coaching skills are better suited for women’s tennis. 


TLR: What has been the best day of your career as a coach?

JH: There are too many to mention, but if I must pick one, I would say when Emilija Arnaudovska qualified for the individual championships in 2007 and we got to go to the final site in Athens, Georgia.  Just to be in that environment and get to share it with a few players was memorable. 


TLR: Have you had a worst day of your career as a coach?

JH: The worst day was in 2009 when two of my players, one former and one on the 2007 roster were involved in a drunk driver hit and run.  That was a very bad time for a lot of people, but I’m so grateful that both of the girls survived and have gone on to live a normal and healthy life. 


TLR: Do you have any regrets in your life? If not, is there a great lesson that you’ve learned from a mistake?

JH: Zero regrets, I am so fortunate to do something that I love for a living and I look forward to each and every day and am so proud to represent Southeastern.

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