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Good To Be Home

Feb. 19, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There was a time not at all that long ago when Alison Silverio might look up from the indoor tennis courts at Georgia Tech at the windows of coaches’ offices and gnash her teeth, or at least clench them.

Now, she looks out through that same glass and hopes that she can – without going so soft as to blow an ever-critical balance – pull off the same good cop/bad cop routine she was on the other end of as a player as recently as 2007. Maybe, hopefully, she can even prompt some teeth via smiles.

Silverio’s career was not pre-ordained, even if the assistant women’s tennis coach seems to fit like a glove into that office. It wasn’t a shock, either, though. As with many elements of tennis, there are scales: some yin, some yang. To use a word favored by Tech associate athletic director Wayne Hogan, much is fluid.

You’ll see.

A cool story led her back to The Flats; it was a sweet trail followed back to Tech, where she re-docked in August, 2010 after assisting for two-plus seasons at N.C. State.

But back end first: Silverio’s here now, and coaching as if she was tapped on the shoulder by a higher being who/that decided that is the way it is supposed to be after all.

Consider coach Bryan Shelton, and his dime store (old phrase there; maybe we should given inflation modify that to say Sawbuck store) analysis:

“I’m at the stage in life now with two kids, an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old, they’re more active than ever,” he said. “To bring in somebody who could hit the ground running like Alison has without having to do a ton of extra work trying to transition her in here has allowed me to be involved with my kids and what they’re doing as well as know we’re doing a great job here. That’s worth its weight in gold.”

Shelton said Silverio is, “all in,” and pointed out the importantance of her having been away from Tech long enough that her former teammates have all graduated or transferred so that she is not coaching any of them, and she picked up valuable coaching experience with the Wolfpack to boot.

He had more great things to say about a low-seam transition, and what value has come in having an assistant on the recruiting trail who not only believes in the Shelton Way, but has lived it.

Silverio sounds the part, too, even in yet another awkward Winkel-terview.

I asked one of the longest multi-part questions in the history of organized species, and when transcribing the tape I kept fast-forwarding through my voice so as not to make my own skin crawl (agh!) as I asked.

Finally, I arrived at one great answer.

The gists of the queries were simple: how different is it now when strategizing with Shelton on how to coach (or sometimes not coach) when taking into account the psychological status, classroom standing, etc. of the player(s) in question? Are you more understanding of Shelton’s approach? Do you marvel at any of the above or related corollaries?

(Long, long answer alert; hey, I set the table):

“I’ve had many A-ha moments. It’s certainly an art to coaching, and I don’t have everything figured out, which is great because I know I have room to grow.

“Coach Shelton and I had a situation not too long ago where you know it’s the right thing to say [to a player], but that player might not need to hear it at that time. As a [former] player, I certainly understand the time management and that academics are tough, and you’re getting pulled in every direction . . . certainly it’s nice to know that your coaches are behind you and supporting you.

“There are times that we have to be harder on the girls, but as a player I remember thinking, `Why are they getting on me all the time?’ Now, as a coach, I’m going, `Wow, I see how much care and support there was in those situations because my coaches knew I could do better, and they expected that.’

“I think being a coach it’s interesting because you see that in your players, and you know they can do better, and you expect them to do better and there is that fine art of knowing when to push, and when to motivate, and what are the right words to use? I think my biggest A-ha moment was just knowing how important it is for players to feel the belief from coaches because that really makes a difference.”

Have to wrap up quickly because your patience is waning, probably, and I have to join my family.

Shelton said that one of the best parts of having Silverio on board is, “she knows how great this place is, and how part of what makes it so great is how hard it can be.”

As a former academic bum with three children whom I hope in some ways are/will be nothing like I was/am, I love that.

Know this: Silverio not only was part of Tech’s 2007 NCAA title team, but she won the clinched match in the championship match, and also won the clinching match in a huge win at Georgia. She was NCAA MVP, and her track record goes on and on. You can look up much of it on the Tech website.

She graduated in May, ’07 with a degree in management, and then spent several months giving tennis lessons, and interviewing for potential jobs in marketing or sales.

Then, the N.C. State opening came as she was back visiting family over the holidays late that year. She got the job.

When the Tech assistant’s position opened last summer, her phone rang.

In her mind, at that moment, she jumped over a net even before interviewing. That (the figurative net jumping) still happens most days.

“To be learning from the best coach in college tennis . . . if it can be an extended period of time [at Tech], that would be great,” Silverio said. “When I got to college, Bryan was really the first coach who really worked with me and gave me the confidence and belief in myself that I needed to continue to grow as a player and as a person. That’s where my respect and admiration comes from for Bryan.

“Like I said, [coaching is] an art; it’s not easy to do. If I could start and finish my career at Georgia Tech, that would be a dream come true. I’ll stay for as long as they’ll have me.”

This story – which is long — could have been about five times longer. Maybe I should write books. Talk me out of it, or into it, at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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