By Rick Assad
Ever since Nicole Merrit was able to hold a tennis racket in her hands she’s been smitten with the sport.
“I was immediately drawn into tennis the very first time I picked up a racket at four years old. It’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed whether it was with my dad [Dmitry] or coaches growing up, my teammates at Burbank High, or my fellow coaches at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center,” said Merrit, a senior at Cal State Long Beach and a former No. 1 singles player for the Bulldogs as a senior and junior.
Merrit continued: “It’s always been a hobby that I turn to and I hope to be able to do so for the rest of my life,” she said.
Merrit, who participated in three CIF Southern Section playoffs, is in her fourth year on the Cal State Long Beach campus, but will be there another year after switching her major from Kinesiology to Accounting.
Initially, Merrit considered trying out for the women’s tennis team at Cal State Long Beach, but decided against it so she could spend more time studying.
And Merrit, who teamed up with Yana Paranuik in doubles where they placed first in the Pacific League preliminaries, has also coached the last two years, which is something that gives her a great deal of satisfaction.
“My coaching experience at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center [in Long Beach] has been incredible. I absolutely love sharing my passion and knowledge of the game with my students, whether they are kids or adults,” she said. “It’s always so cool to see them progress and learn new skills.”
Merrit, who may also pursue an MBA and perhaps become a certified public accountant, went on: “Initially, I was teaching Parks and Recreation classes for the city of Long Beach through the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, but that very quickly grew into me being able to coach private lessons as well as group clinics for all different ages and levels,” she said.
Merrit went on: “Nothing beats seeing someone have that lightbulb moment and knowing you helped them achieve that,” she explained.
When there is extra time on the court, Merrit will play tennis, which is something that keeps her game sharp.
“Often times in between lessons or after work I’ll play some matches with the other coaches there and it’s always tons of fun!,” she said. “I actually met my boyfriend, Jordan, at work. He is an extremely skilled tennis player and we go play tons and tons of tennis together.”
During Merrit’s time on the Burbank campus, she stood out having posted a 4.0 grade-point average throughout her four years, was on the varsity squad for four years, was selected a team captain and was also a peer counselor.
Merrit really likes where she’s at in her life.
“I really do enjoy being a college student,” she said. “Of course there are a lot of aspects of high school that I really miss, but being a college student offers much more flexibility than being a high school student and it’s exciting to be learning things that are getting you closer and closer to the real working world.”
Merrit added: “After school, I really hope to be able to combine my background in tennis with my knowledge of business,” she noted.
What’s been the best part of coaching?
“The highlight of my coaching career has been growing my adult clinic,” Merrit said. “What started as a small group of a few adults wanting to play tennis has turned into a recurring clinic where students are constantly learning new skills and strategy and have the opportunity to put it into practice right then and there.”
Despite the coronavirus being present, tennis classes have been an outlet for so many.
“COVID has provided me with a lot more work than I previously had,” Merrit pointed out. “The demand for tennis has skyrocketed since it’s outdoors and naturally set up to be socially-distanced.”
Being a college student hasn’t been a walk in the park, especially since the pandemic has forced so many to take classes virtually.
“Attending undergrad online definitely has its challenges, but I’m hopeful that we will resume with in-person learning next semester,” Merrit said.
Playing tennis is always fun, but there’s a clear delineation between playing tennis and teaching the sport.
“I’d say both playing and teaching have their own benefits, but I love both equally,” Merrit said. “Playing tennis is so much fun and you really get to experience the thrill of the game first hand.”
Merrit went on: “Coaching on the other hand involves a lot more analyzing and observing,” she said. “Becoming a coach has definitely made me a better player though, because it taught me how to analyze my own game and my own strategy when I’m playing.”
There’s more than what meets the eye when it comes to being a successful coach. It takes a special breed of person who can share what they know and explained it.
“Coaching certainly has its challenges, but the gratification of seeing my students improve and have fun makes it well worth it,” Merrit said.
When Merrit thinks about her four years as a prep tennis player, they are fond memories.
“Playing for the BHS girls’ varsity team was definitely the highlight of high school for me,” she said. “I always had a really great time learning from coach [Loy] Phan, whom I still keep in contact with, competing as a team, and creating lifelong friendships. Probably my favorite memory is when we won first place in the league my freshman year on the team.”
The Bulldogs placed second to powerful Arcadia in the other three seasons that Merrit was on the squad.
Being on a sports team is usually helpful because it in many ways reflects the real world.
“Playing tennis for the Bulldogs taught me countless lifelong lessons,” Merrit said. “I learned how to push myself both physically and mentally. I learned how to be on a team, and most importantly, I learned how to connect with others; all skills I will use for the rest of my life.”
So far, Merrit is pleased with how matters have gone across the last eight years.
“There’s nothing I would change about how I went about high school or college,” she said. “Of course, you can ask yourself what if this and what if that, but at the end of the day, I think everything panned out exactly the way it was supposed to.”
And that’s all you can really ask for, isn’t it?