By CLINT HARDEN
10:17 AM CDT, June 21, 2011
The people of New Zealand don’t watch much television, sit around or have what Americans like to call ‘lazy days.’ They’re the outdoors-type. New Zealanders like running, skiing, fishing, climbing and hiking, often times all in the same day.
It’s a beautiful country filled with friendly people and incredible scenery; two things Independent tennis coach Simon Norman loves about his home country.
“The contrasting scenery (in New Zealand) is what I miss about it,” Norman said. “In the summer, you can go snow skiing, come off the mountain and fish for a nice trout in the same day. Maybe even go water skiing.”
He and his wife Laura, plus sons Jake and Ryan used to visit New Zealand every three years when it was easy for everyone to find time for it.
But now, Ryan, who won three state championships playing for his father at Independent, plays tennis at Creighton University, so it’s more difficult to find time when everyone can go. Norman couldn’t be more proud of that fact, though.
“People tell me that my kids must be trying to go pro,” he said. “But that’s not the goal. (Ryan’s) getting his education paid for and playing tennis. He’s getting a solid education and becoming a solid person.”
Norman left New Zealand to play for Wichita State University in the early 80’s, when the Shockers were ranked as high as No. 12 in the nation, and joined two players that were also from New Zealand.
“It was me and another guy that stayed in New Zealand while another guy came to the states,” Norman said. “He kept telling us how great of a time he was having so the guy that stayed behind went to the states and I kept playing semi-pro in Europe.”
Norman eventually came over to join the two and found it was a great way to get a degree. He earned a degree in biology and one semester took 21 credit hours while playing tennis.
“This stuff about not taking a full class load and playing sports is rubbish,” he said. “Absolute rubbish.”
Norman graduated in 1984 and went directly into coaching. He started working for the Wichita Parks and Recreation club and eventually started working for Genesis Health Club full-time.
He coached Ryan throughout his life and schooling, and is currently doing the same for Jake, who will be a junior at Independent next school year.
Some parents can’t coach their children in sports. It can cause too much stress and ruin the parent-child relationship. Norman loves it.
“I love watching them grow up in that manner,” he said. “I want all of the kids I coach to win, but with my children, it tugs differently.”
Jake said it has enhanced his relationship with his father; the fact that his dad is his coach is great.
“It makes him more relatable,” Norman said of his father. “It makes it easier to talk to him when I want to talk about tennis or, just, life.”
Norman never pushed his children to play tennis. Both Jake and Ryan played several sports growing up, but always gravitated toward tennis.
“I’ve always spent a lot of time here (at Genesis),” Jake said of why he chose to stick with tennis. “It’s just the most fun.”
The culture of Norman’s home country spilled into his family. He always wanted them to be active.
“Just as long as they weren’t sitting in front of the TV, I was fine,” Norman said.
Simon & Jake travelled to Kansas City for the United States Tennis Association Sweet 16 tournament June 17-20, where Jake competed as an unseeded player.
“There are four national champions and at least 10 players that will play at (NCAA) Division I schools,” Jake said. “I think it’s fun. It’s cool to be playing in that type of environment.”
Norman said his favorite part of coaching is the various ages he works with and winning state championships with the high school athletes.
“I love seeing the excitement on the kid’s faces when they win a state title,” Norman said. “That’s a feeling they will never forget. To be a part of it is awesome.”
Although Norman has led the girls’ team to five team state championships, five boys’ singles state champions and four more on the girls’ side, it hasn’t always been that way.
Norman became the coach of Independent tennis when a parent approached him in 2000 and asked if he wanted to lead the project.
“There were three girls on the first team,” he said. “That wasn’t enough to field a team. But, we got our foot in the door and it grew.”
Norman has shaped Independent into a tennis power, winning at least 20 combined state championships since he started the program.
The teams use the courts at Genesis to practice because the school doesn’t have any courts, which is something Norman would like to see change.
Courts or not, Simon Norman has left his imprint on tennis in Wichita, all the way from New Zealand.
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