Head tennis coach balances athletics, motherhood

Paige Yaroshuk-Tews often prefers to be unconventional in both her roles as head coach of the University of Miami women’s tennis team and as a mother.

In no instance was this more obvious than at the 2009 National Indoor Championships.

Laura Vallverdu was a senior at UM and one of the best young tennis players in the country. She was looking to build on the previous year in which she had made it all the way to the finals.

That did not happen. In fact, she didn’t even get close, playing one of her worst matches as a collegiate athlete.

“It was over,” Vallverdu said. “[My shots] wouldn’t bounce on the court.”

Every one of her forehand shots – which had always been her strength – sailed from the strings of her racket, over the net, to the opposite fence.

When hearing about her issue from a confused Vallverdu herself, Yaroshuk-Tews reacted in a way that few would expect.

“She sat by me with a bag of peanuts in her hand and began laughing,” Vallverdu said. “She said, ‘You’re so crazy right now that it’s borderline hilarious. Why are you hitting the ball to the fence?’”

Vallverdu told her coach to stop laughing, but Yaroshuk-Tews wouldn’t budge. She kept going.

“I was in a dark hole, and her strategy was to dumb the situation down and keep it in my mind that it was just a game,” Vallverdu said.

That night, Yaroshuk-Tews took Vallverdu out to dinner. They walked around the city of New Haven, Connecticut, and talked for nearly four hours. Vallverdu laughed some and cried some. They did not hit a single tennis ball – they just talked about life.

The next day, less than 24 hours removed from her meltdown, Vallverdu ended up winning the entire consolation bracket. Yaroshuk-Tews’ strategy had worked to perfection.

“It shows that you have to open up to have a great relationship with your coach,” said Vallverdu, who is now an associate head coach for Miami. “Just by being Paige, she bounced me back from a tournament.”

Yaroshuk-Tews, who is the program’s all-time winningest coach, is in the midst of her 16th season at the helm for Miami. She has led the Hurricanes to eight appearances in the NCAA’s Elite Eight in the last 13 seasons. She was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

Being a former player, Yaroshuk-Tews has consistently found success through a process of using athletics to develop her players, first and foremost, as people.

“Sports are great because you can learn life lessons,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “Hard work pays off; working with a team is not an easy thing to do, but you have to find ways to do it. They are always related to life.”

Part of her perspective is shaped by the fact that she is a mother of two, who are both involved in sports. With a busy schedule that sometimes doesn’t allow her to sit down and relax until 10 p.m., Yaroshuk-Tews has done a great deal of her parenting from the Neil Schiff Tennis Center and has gotten her kids involved in the UM environment.

“You didn’t know my daughter was taking a nap here under the table?” Yaroshuk-Tews said with a laugh when asked about how she balances her family time. “Honestly my kids are here a lot. I have a husband that is unbelievable and gets it. I have kids that have grown up on this campus. They love being here and everything about it.”

Although balancing her time can be difficult, Yaroshuk-Tews said there is something special about raising kids on a college campus, especially with a lot of family in the community. For her children, she called it “their second home.”

Volunteer assistant coach Sergio Velez Angel, who is in his third year at Miami, has seen firsthand the discipline Yaroshuk-Tews displays each and every day to manage two of her most important jobs.

“Honestly, I don’t know how she does it,” Velez Angel said. “She comes in with her coffee every morning. Being a mom and then a coach, you have to do homework with your kids and then come in the next morning with such a passion. It’s difficult, especially doing it for so many years. Its hard for me to wrap my head around.”

Velez Angel has been one of many who has built relationships with Yaroshuk-Tews’ kids.

“Three years ago, we started junior clinics, and her daughter Emma, who was 8 or 9 years old at the time, was just learning tennis,” Velez Angel said. “She was a real tennis player after the clinics; she definitely improved. And her son Landon – a really good baseball player. I’ve been trying to get him to play tennis, but he is very good at what he does.”

But regardless of her various methods, Yaroshuk-Tews tackles coaching and raising children in a similar way. She has always wanted to make a difference, to affect other people positively and help them grow. That’s why she left her playing career to become a coach and teach young athletes year after year. That’s what she does constantly as a mom.

“Honestly, that’s the coolest part of my job – it is where I put all of my energy,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “With our society today, having a person with a strong position of influence over young people and just helping them get through and pay it forward: that is what I love about my job the most.”