Bryant celebrates with her players after defeating Wesleyan University (Conn.) 5-0 to win the 2021 Division III Women’s Tennis Championship. (Courtesy of Amy Bryant)

If you have ever been an athlete, you know that a coach can become one of the most meaningful, impactful and treasured aspects of your life. Coaches not only refine players’ techniques, game strategies and training methods, they also have an enormous impact on every generation of athletes they take under their wings. 

For three decades, former Emory women’s tennis head coach Amy Bryant (96C) has exceeded the common expectations of a coach and uplifted her teams to unimaginable levels of competition, teamwork and success. 

Coaching is not a traditional college major, nor was it among Bryant’s initial career plans. Bryant, who played varsity soccer and tennis during her time at Emory, initially planned to go into administration. However, after testing the corporate environment, Bryant was back on the court as the Emory women’s tennis interim head coach in 2000.

“I don’t know that coaches ever really say that they’re going to be coaches,” Bryant said. “It’s not something that you really think, ‘That’s my first goal.’ But once you’ve been a coach, you can’t imagine not being a coach.”

During the 23 seasons Bryant led, the women’s tennis team became a leader in Division III. Bryant’s squads accumulated a record of 428-116, reached the NCAA Tournament in every season except for 2020 during the pandemic, when the tournament was canceled. The team also reached the tournament quarterfinals 21 times, the semifinals 18 times and made 13 appearances in the championship match. 

In addition to the memories of her teams’ impressive victories, Bryant has had the opportunity to take several players on tournament trips to countries across the world – including Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Thailand. The unforgettable experiences will accompany Bryant forever, she said.

“Things like [those trips] that we had to experience together, meeting new people and gaining perspective about lives that are so foreign to our own, those are some of the memories that I probably cherish the most,” Bryant said.

Bryant coaches a player during a match in the NCAA Tournament. (Courtesy of Amy Bryant)

The rapport that developed between Bryant and her players through such bonding experiences led her to realize one of the biggest lessons of her tennis career: “it’s more important to focus on the process of learning and the process of development than it is to really focus on the end result.”

“We’re very goal-oriented, which is fine,” Bryant said. “Once you achieve the goal, it’s really important to be able to reflect and look back . . .  it’s even more important to enjoy that process of learning and growing, and I think sometimes we lose sight of that in pursuit of the goal.” 

Bryant’s advice resonated with the two current team captains, sophomore Eliza McPherron and senior Stephanie Shulman. As captains, they play a significant role in leading practices during the off-season and maintaining communication between the players and team staff. Their relationships with Bryant provided them the skills and lessons necessary to be successful captains, athletes and students. 

For Shulman, Bryant’s emphasis on building relationships that are reciprocally positive has informed how she approaches her new leadership role and the camaraderie she is trying to build among her teammates.

“I have learned from [Bryant] that if you surround yourself with people that support you and that you support, the better relationships that you have . . .  you’re setting yourself up for better success,” Shulman said. 

Bryant understood that the lessons her players learned on the court were applicable to their personal lives as well. Her focus on nurturing them both as athletes and people for their long-term wellbeing resonated with McPherron, who said that Bryant framed setbacks and losses as “building blocks” that strengthen one’s character.

“Definitely ‘trust the process,’ is something that she has preached from the very start,” McPherron said. “Every time we had a hard loss, [Bryant] was always running up at the end and would bring us in and she’d be like, ‘It’s all part of the process . . . What did we learn today? And how can that help us become better tennis players and better people in the future?’ In sports, I feel like that’s such a huge thing.”

Former Emory women’s tennis assistant coach Bridget Harding (20PH), who played under Bryant from 2014-2018, has assumed the role of interim head coach and plans to incorporate Bryant’s advice.

“It’s a privilege for me to be able to say that I get to lead this team now,” Harding said. “I really do walk in here every day feeling grateful that I was afforded this opportunity, and I’m very excited to pay it forward to our team and continue the legacy that Amy has built.” 

Harding will continue to work alongside volunteer coach Kevin Ye, who has been part of the team for five years now. Ye defined Bryant as being “dedicated” throughout her career  at Emory and has adopted Bryant’s philosophy of extending the role of a coach beyond just training their athletes. 

“I think we gotta use our platform of coaching to be able to help them succeed as athletes after tennis as well,” Ye said. “I think there’s a higher purpose of doing that, and it’s our responsibility to [the players] to help put them in the best possible position to succeed after school.”

Harding has no doubt that Bryant’s legacy will continue to live on through the work ethic of the players and the continuous support of the athletic department. The program’s past victories have demonstrated that the strategies currently in use, largely adopted under Bryant’s watch, effectively maximize the team’s potential. 

“I think that the reason that this program is so successful is because it’s run the right way,” Harding said. “One of my biggest emphasis points for them is just making sure that they’re not just plowing forward and always looking at the next thing they want to do, but also taking time to reflect on the things that they are doing and finding value in that as well.”

The Emory University tennis team huddles before the 2014 Division III Women’s Tennis Championship. Emory defeated Amherst College (Mass.) 5-1 to win the national title. (Courtesy of NCAA Photos)