The Long Way Dao-wn the Road

(Left to Right) Long Dao, mens tennis head coach, talks to Christian Ponce and Daniel Vinterfeld in the tennis courts at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif on Feb. 27, 2019. Photo by Chris Torres.

Beside the rusty metal fences surrounding the outdoor tennis courts stood a hooded figure dressed in a bright red Brahma tennis hoodie. The figure swings a tennis racket over his head swiftly, yet powerfully- striking the tennis ball with its woven racket making a loud pop. The ball barely makes it over the net with mere centimeters to spare and is placed effortlessly into the serving area.

Long Dao, Pierce’s tennis coach, then turns to his right and tells his new student it’s her turn to try and serve.  She does her best to emulate him, but it is nowhere close to what he demonstrated.

Instead of getting upset, he is patient and does his best to walk her through the serve again. He explains that there are almost ten different movements to a serve, but he simplifies it into one fluid motion.

According to Dao, simplifying the game and making it easier to understand is the same coaching philosophy of Hall of Fame Tennis Coach Paul Xanthos, who was his former coach at Pierce back in 2004.

“There are twenty different parts to one shot,” Dao said. “He tried to narrow it down to focus on one little thing that could change the entire shot. So in that, it kind of changed how I thought about tennis and how I approach it now when I coach.”

With a win-loss record of 550-94 over a span of 28 years, following in the footsteps of Xanthos is no easy task, but Dao is ambitious and ready to accept the challenge.

“He had incredible teams when he was coaching,” Dao said. “So there’s always a little bit of a responsibility to try and keep that going.”

Dao understands that tennis is often underappreciated because it is overshadowed by other mainstream sports in the United States. He believes the only way to truly appreciate tennis as a sport is to play it and put effort in to get better as an athlete.

“When you’re able to hit a ball that has a great sensation of a perfect shot, you keep trying to find it over and over again,” Dao said. “It’s the repetition of hitting a perfect ball and I think that challenge is why so many players end up playing it.”

The sensation of being successful in tennis can be compared to other sports as well, according to Dao.

“You play baseball, you hit a ball, and it feels great,” Dao said. “You play football, you catch a touchdown, and it feels great. You play basketball, you make a three-pointer, it feels great. Once you feel the success, that’s when I think people start to stick to it.”

With over ten years of coaching tennis under his belt, Dao said his most memorable moment as a coach was last year when the number one Pierce doubles team won the conference title against Ventura College.

“Usually Ventura has a very tough team to beat,” Dao said. “In that tournament, we had to beat three Ventura teams to actually win.”

Coach Dao won the United States Professional Tennis Association U30 award for Excellence in 2016. His former coach, Rajeev Datt, was the one that put him up for the award.

“It’s nice to know that people appreciate what you do in a sense, because this is not a high profile field that I’m in,” Dao said. “So, it’s nice to get a little bit of recognition.”

Christian Ponce, the team’s number one singles player, said it is coach Dao’s patience that makes him such a great coach.

“Even if we make the same mistake over and over again, he still tells us and doesn’t give up on correcting our mistakes,” Ponce said.

Daniel Vinterfield, singles player, reflected on a match he played last year that went on for three-and-a-half hours and coach Dao was giving him advice that could translate to life.

“He kept telling me the more you push, the more the results are going to be worth it,” Vinterfield  said. “The reward of pushing yourself and going all out to win everything is a better feeling than how you feel during the match.”

Dao’s coaching philosophy of everything is earned through hard work and overcoming challenges relates to tennis and life. When adversity strikes, he said he wants his players to fight through it.

“When the odds are stacked against you, are you going to sit back and think this sucks, or are you going to try and change that,” Dao said. “If you truly want something, whatever it may be, you have to go work for it.”