67. Chris Young – Oklahoma State University – Lessons in Leadership from a Tennis Coach

April 4, 2022 Robert Wagner, CPA, Advisory Partner

Chris Young

Chris Young is the Director of Tennis and the Head Coach of Women's Tennis at Oklahoma State University. He has been at the helm of the OSU tennis program for more than 12 years compiling a record of 204 wins against only 97 losses. Young has been credited with turning OSU tennis into an international program.

Listen in as Chris deep dives into his leadership philosophy, covering his love of taking on challenges, his passion for bringing talented individuals together, and orchestrating wins that set a new precedent for everybody involved.

In addition, he shares his belief that tennis is both an individual and a team sport and emphasizes that coaches need to focus on cultivating a mentality of focus, and a culture of collaboration in their athletes.

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Chris Young:

The one thing we can control is the way that we show up every day, the way that we do things. And I think being process-oriented is so important in that. We talked to our girls about that this week. We had a really, really tough loss with Texas. They were top five in the country, we were right there inside the top 10. And we had to turn around two days later and the beat against Baylor who is also really big. And so we talked about, well, we had a little setback here, but we got to stay true to the process and who we are. And the next day we have to show up.

Robert Wagner:

From HoganTaylor CPAs and Advisors, I'm Robert Wagner, and this is How That Happened, a business and interview success podcast. Each episode of the show, we sit down with the business and community leaders behind thriving organizations to learn how business and innovation success actually happens.

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Well, our guest today is Chris Young. Chris is the director of tennis and the head coach of women's tennis at Oklahoma State University. Chris has been at the helm of the OSU tennis program for 12 years, compiling a record of 204 wins against only 97 losses. During his time at OSU, he is credited with turning the Cowgirl Program into a national tennis power. We are recording this in the late March of 2022, and the Cowgirls are currently ranked 11th in the country.

Prior to joining OSU, Chris was the director of tennis at Wichita State University, where he enjoyed tremendous success there as well. [inaudible 00:01:49] Missouri Valley Conference champions in 2006, 2007 and 2009. And they appeared in the NCAA tennis tournament each of those three years, which were the first NCAA appearances in Wichita State's history.

Chris is a graduate of Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, Oklahoma, where he met my co-host of How That Happened, Aaron Ackerman. So Chris, welcome to the How that Happened Podcast.

Chris Young:

Yeah, I appreciate you having me on.

Robert Wagner:

And again, I know you know Aaron, my co-host, I'm sorry, he's not here with us, but I appreciate you doing this for us. Appreciate it.

Chris Young:

That's great.

Robert Wagner:

So, as I said in the bio, Chris, you've had a lot of success where you've been, Wichita State, you took them to a national prominence, you helped them achieve their conference championships and enter the NCAA. You've done the same at OSU. OSU is currently ranked 11th I think in women's tennis in the country so that's fantastic. So you seem to have that skill as a builder of programs and organizations. So tell us about that. How has that happened? How have you done that?

Chris Young:

I think first and foremost, I love the challenge. I love the challenge of doing something that is a little bit outside the norm. I guess that's a good thing because the schools that I've been at have been schools that haven't had a lot of success previously in tennis before, or had been a long time, in the case of Oklahoma State, had been 11 years where they had even made the [inaudible 00:03:16] tournament when I came.

I think first of all, the challenge of that, I also just love connecting people and working with people and bringing out in my athletes what they didn't see was possible. I think all that kind of goes through building a culture and a community of people with a big vision, and dreams. And I love that, just kind of building. And as you said, just building a culture and a network of people.

And that goes just outside of our athletes as well. I think to have a successful program that goes to our donors and supporters, to the administration. Someone told me that it's your job when you get into a program like maybe women's tennis that's not naturally followed, you have to make people care. You have to give them a reason to care. And there's many reasons why people wouldn't care, wouldn't support the program, and it doesn't always deal with winning. And so I think having a good understanding of all those things is a challenge when you go into a new place. I've always found that very exciting and rewarding.

Robert Wagner:

Yeah. That's awesome. I love the challenge part of it, just taking on the challenge of taking something that probably should be better just hasn't been, and making it better. So Chris, I wanted to ask a question and I'm not sure where you'll with this, you can go anywhere you want to. A lot of us, and you kind of alluded to tennis not being something that is naturally followed by a lot of folks, but a lot of us would follow the traditional team sports, true team sports, basketball, football, baseball. But tennis, and this is true of quite a few collegiate sports is both an individual and a team sport. What are the implications of that for the leader, for the coach?

Chris Young:

I think it's one of the more challenging sports to coach because many of the kids chose tennis because they wanted to play an individual sport. They wanted to be able to maybe not have to rely on others for their success, maybe they wanted to focus individually. There's a lot of differences as we can all understand between an individual sport and a team sport and how those are played and the expectations. My son, for instance, played basketball, and sometimes he wasn't getting the playing time that he thought he deserved, and he became a tennis player and said, nobody can tell me I'm not good enough. I got to go out there and I got to prove it. And so there's a mindset that goes with that.

The challenge in collegiate tennis is that we played as a team sport for the most part. The most important aspects of our season are played as a team. You have to get as the leader, all of these athletes who grew up their entire life trying to be and enjoying being an individual athlete. And now you have to get them to buy into a team concept. And they've already made that decision somewhere along in their past that they would rather play a team sport. Rather play an individual sport than a team sport.

Chris Young:

Getting those kids to buy in is challenging, and I've had so many of my best athletes say, look, I chose this because I'm a little bit selfish or I wanted this and it's not natural for me to then understand the team dynamic or care as much about what the others do. But now, my success is depending upon how others play. And so now I have to give, I have to sacrifice, I have to do all these things.

I think that's a big challenge as a leader is understanding that, understanding where the kids are going to come from, and have that perspective of it's not going to change overnight. You're not going to change something that's been built in them.

Now, some kids maybe they didn't understand what being in a team sport was really all about, and they find it very fascinating, they find it challenging, they find it rewarding. But just getting people to realize that you can go so much farther together with a team and what you need your teammates to push you in practice and in training and on all of those things. So, it is a big challenge. I think it is definitely one of the biggest parts of the job.

Robert Wagner:

Okay. Okay, good. So you've mentioned culture a minute ago. Tell us some more about culture. We talk about culture here at HoganTaylor all the time, we're a culture driven firm. So what does that mean in your world?

Chris Young:

I think culture is definitely a word that gets thrown around a lot, because everybody knows the importance of it, but sometimes I think the biggest thing is defining what it means to you, defining what it means for HoganTaylor, defining what it means for Oklahoma State women's tennis. And I think that's leadership driven. That's understanding this is who I am as a leader and this is the characteristics and things that I believe are important to my program and how I want our program to excel.

And that continually is changing. I think there's many things, many facets of the culture you're adapting to, your personnel and you're adapting to the people that are there. But there also is certain intangibles and characteristics and things that don't change. I think that is really important of adapting people into your culture.

I think culture is something you have to work on every day. It's just like in my world, recruiting. If you don't recruit every day, someone says recruiting is like shaving, of you don't do it every day, it shows. I think culture is the same thing. I think most people try to react to problems as they arise. I think when you're building a culture, you're laying the foundation for when adversity or things happen. We understand how we're all going to deal with it and we have a common foundation laid of these are the principles and the characteristics that are going to guide us. They're not only the good times, but the difficult moments as well.

And so, as we build our culture, that starts in our fall season, and we take one day every week and we talk about the principles that are going to be important to our culture. And we define those things. I think a lot of times people throw around certain words about the culture, but they don't really, there's not a definition for that organization of this is how we define what these terms in our culture really mean. And everybody then speaks the same language. You're on the same path and on the same page. And then when things come up that need to be handled or addressed, it's a lot easier to go back to, as previous discussions or as we talked about, this is how we're going to handle it.

And in my world, that goes to maybe discipline issues, it goes to things that come up and a decision has to be made of what's best for the team. And it may not always be what's best for that individual and they have to make some sacrifices, but we go back to, okay, we've talked about our culture is about one another and serving one another, and so this is your opportunity to serve someone on your team. In this situation, it's going to make you uncomfortable and it's not always going to be what you chose, but this is how we're going to impact our culture and make it important.

So I think there's a lot of things that go into that, but I think that it's something you have to work on every single day and we work on it all throughout the year. When our girls come into our program, we give them a notebook. And that's kind of my gift to them when they leave the program, and the first section of the notebook is what I've defined as certain characteristics within our program, what it means to be a Cowgirl tennis player. And the ways that we're going to try to help them grow on and off the court as a person. And we kind of define some of the definitions of certain terms and things that I use a lot in my language with the girls.

And then the second page is, or the second section is for them to take notes in our meetings when we talk about it, and for them to continue to define and to talk to themself about how they're going to handle certain situations that come up. And we bring in guest speakers throughout the year that can talk on certain subjects. And then once a month, we have just a team dialogue meeting that talks about our culture.

And so hopefully at the end of their time here, they can look back and they have this notebook and say, when these things came up in my career here, here's what I did or here's what I went to or here's how we addressed it or handled it. Hopefully that's something that can kind of guide them long beyond their time in our program.

Robert Wagner:

I love so much of that. You talked about culture is where we go when adversity hits or when we hit a bump of the road. I love that. That is so good. And then the notebook is great too. It makes you accountable, right? You hand someone a thing, they're going to hold you to it. It's like, hey coach, you gave this to me on day one.

Chris Young:

That's the most challenging thing about being a leader and being a coach, is that you are the standard. I have to say that coaches are the messengers of excellence. And so we define what the standard is, we define what excellence is, and there's no days off. And so it's important for you to show up every day and you are the standard of excellence. You are the messenger of, this is what the culture looks like.

And so, you have to hold yourself to the highest standard and the highest level of accountability. That's the most difficult challenge in being a leader is understanding that. I think once you understand that and you're very clear in that, then as you said, I don't have to worry. The kids know that I'm going to be accountable.

Robert Wagner:

Let's talk about change a little bit. So talk about how the life of an elite athlete has changed over your span of coaching? I'm really talking about like nutrition and training and all of those kinds of things. I think my eventual question here is, you played tennis and I don't mean to age you, but it was 20 years ago, right? Could 20 year old Chris beat 20 year olds today, or has the athletic ability just changed so much?

Chris Young:

Now, I think a lot of things have changed. I think as you kind of alluding to with nutrition, with the way that we train, with our fitness, there's so many things, advantages that I think the kids today have because we've learned so much and think we've continued to evolve. I'm in my 20th year as a head coach, I hope that I'm a better coach now than I was 20 years ago. I feel sorry sometimes for those kids that got me in the first few years. So I think that hopefully if we're doing things right, we are continuing to evolve.

I think change is positive in a lot of ways because there is growth, there's growth in every industry, and I think it's really important to be ahead of the curve and right there and always studying and learning as a leader where my industry is going, where the sport of tennis is going and be able to stay on top of that and stay focused in that area and trying to be a trend setter and not someone that's falling behind, because I think that's really important to give all of our players the most resources.

That's something that we sell in recruiting is that we're going to give you every resource to be a professional athlete and to play at the highest level. And we don't know, we can't guarantee that that's going to be what happens to you, but we're not going to let the excuse be for a lack of effort and resources and us providing that for you. I think that's one of the greatest things that I can do as a leader is to provide every resource for the people that are under me to have the success that they want to have, and not to stifle them or hold them back.

And so that goes into all the things that you talk about. And so, being aware of those, getting people in place around me that have expertise that I don't have, and being willing as a leader to say, I don't have the answers, but I'm willing to go find them and search for them and be open to that. I think that's really important as a leader to be honest, you can't fake it. People know genuineness when they see it, and so, I think that's really important as well.

I've seen so changes and in our world right now, I think the last two years have been as much change in college athletics as we've ever seen. I was in a meeting with our athletic director yesterday, and we were just kind of discussing that change makes people very uncomfortable. And that could be good for growth because you have to be in that uncomfortable zone. There's no growth in the comfort zone and there's no comfort in the growth zone as they say. So, you have to be uncomfortable, but I think you'd have to be able to adapt to change without changing your culture, going back to what we talked about before. I think that's really important.

Robert Wagner:

What's happening in technology in tennis? I know social media and stuff is I'm sure affecting recruiting. We'll get to some recruiting things here in a second. But just in the playing of tennis or in the training for tennis, what's happening in technology?

Chris Young:

I think now everybody live streams all of their matches, I think that's really an important thing. We were kind of ahead of the curve when we built our tennis center in 2014, we were on the first ones to use a company called Playsight. At the time we had a kiosk on the court and we had six cameras on the court, and it could track the spin of the ball, the rate of the spin, the speed where the ball was landing, all that.

And it was super high tech technology, and you would go to the kiosk and you could see on the screen on the kiosk there replays and video and we could do kind of live coaching. Now it's advanced so much that we just scan a QR code on our phone and we have all the access to all that information. And now we've got this big old kiosk sitting on a couple of our courts that we don't know what to do with. So it changes I think.

The biggest thing now for us is, for the players, as soon as the match is over, within 24 hours, they have the match video and all the statistics that they could ever want on their phone. And so, they can go home that night and rewatch their match, and it's all cut up so that there's no dead time and they can rewatch a three hour match in probably as little as 30 minutes and everything's synced down to of them. They can click on and they can look at how many times they hit their first serve and all the times that they hit their first serve, they made it and how those points turned out. There's a lot of information that we give them there that I think is really important.

So, from a technological standpoint, I think that's really important. We also have different apps on our phone. We have a mental health and mental skills app that we use that I think has been extremely helpful this year for our team. Dr. Jim Loehr is one of the best out there for mental skills in the tennis world. He's trained some of the elite players going back to the [inaudible 00:17:53] to now. And as he's kind of getting further along the lines in his career, he developed this app along with several others and it's great, it's very tennis specific. It talks to them how to handle certain moments and there's certain exercises they can do based on certain things they're going to face in their match.

Our girls have found that very helpful, their five minute exercise that they can do. One of our girls told me the other day she had a really big win, and she said, I did the exercise about how to beat a player that was more talented than you. And they gave her just a few tips and skills that she just kept it in her mind throughout the match and how she was going to out-compete her and kept her in a really good mental place. And it worked for her.

I think all those things are technology at work and us being able to put access into our players' phone or their hands. Very easily accessible tools that can help them. Their time is so valuable, there's so much demand on their time. So to be able to do it in a very succinct manner as well is important.

Robert Wagner:

Yeah. That's fascinating. That's fascinating stuff. So let's talk about recruiting a little bit. I went through the roster, and you cannot go through the roster without noting the international flavor of the roster. And just to give listeners an idea, there's Kazakhstan, Japan, Finland, Thailand, and Italy all represented on your roster. It's a short roster. Is this just the reality? Also noted, this isn't new. I went back to the 2009/10 roster and there was five international players. This is not a new phenomenon at all. Is this just the reality of college tennis or college sports in general is that it's a global market for talent?

Chris Young:

It definitely is. Tennis is a worldwide sport and in so many countries, tennis and soccer are the two top sports in the country. And that's what their played. We're the only country that has collegiate sports as we know it, that gives scholarships where kids can get their university paid for in some form or fashion playing collegiate sports. And so it's an opportunity that many athletes all around the world they aspire to be able to do it just like many Americans.

The challenge for us is oftentimes our location in the middle of America isn't always as attractive to tennis kids who would prefer to be in a climate that maybe is warmer weather or has a beach near it. It's not as exciting maybe at times or for some of those kids to think about coming to Stillwater, Oklahoma. Although I love it and love raising my family here, an 18 year old might see UCLA or they might see Stanford, and there's some of the trappings that go along with that, and that appeals to them.

Where there might be a kid from Thailand or Japan and they're just happy to find a place that's going to give them some of the resources that we provide, and they don't maybe have a certain bias towards geographic locations or other things. They've just seen that our program has been successful in developing professional players and players that have gone on and had success in so many areas of their life. And so, they give us a little bit more of a shot than others. At the end of the day, we want to put the most competitive team out there.

I also think it's really helpful to our American kids. We have five internationals and we have three American kids on our team right now. So, those kids get a worldwide experience because they get to learn about so many different cultures and they develop friendships. Our girls were talking the other day, they're going to go to weddings in Italy and in Japan for their teammates. And they're going to get to go travel the world and see some of their teammates. They get just a different perspective of what the world is like.

I think that's part of the university experience as well is, we're a teaching program first, we're on a university campus, and that's my job is to be an educator first. And I think that goes along with it. There's a lot of life lessons that I've learned from having kids from all over the world that come from different backgrounds and cultures than I have that see the world in a different way. I think there's always so much that you can learn from that. I think that's been a very healthy perspective. And nothing else, just the value of coming over here and having these opportunities, these kids are so excited about it. Many of them wind up staying.

I have a girlfriend Monte Nero that came over and played for us on our team that made the national finals in 2016, and now she is living in Enid, Oklahoma as one of the head pros at the Oakwood Country Club there in Enid. She just loved this area of the country so much and has kind of found a home here in Oklahoma. She doesn't plan to go back to Montenegro. Her family comes over and visits her a few times a year, but she loves it. And so that's just one example of kids that have come from different areas of the world.

When I was recruiting her, and they told the story on CBS when we played in the national finals, that there's only two courts in her city. And most of the time there was a fight for court time. And so, her dad bought a net and they would set the net up in the parking lot of those two courts when the courts were full if they showed up, and they would hit over that net, so one of the courts came open.

And so you take a kid like that and you tell them, you can come to Stillwater, Oklahoma, and we have a $20 million tennis facility where you have 12 outdoor and six indoor courts and you have the ability to practice any point in the day that you want to, that's life changing for a kid like that. And she went on to win several professional tournaments and achieve some really high goals. And at the end of the day, she met so many people in this area that she decided Oklahoma now is where I want to make my home.

I say all that to say that, we always want to recruit the local kids first. We always try to focus close to home and then kind of work our way out. And in that process, as we get to know kids from all over the world, we're going to try to make the best fit for our culture. And sometimes that's a kid from Edmond, Oklahoma, and sometimes that's a kid from Bangkok, Thailand. We just try not to limit ourself in any way to what's going to give us the best chance to build our culture with the right way with great kids that buy into what Oklahoma State is really all about.

That's one way we can make a difference I believe in tennis, in women's tennis at Oklahoma state, I believe we can change the world by educating these kids and sending them either into our communities or back to where they came from a much stronger and competent young woman. And they can go out and make a big difference.

Robert Wagner:

Yeah. Yeah. That's excellent stuff, and I love the comments around just the impact that it has on the other girls, the influence it has on the program and on the community. We have found that here, HoganTaylor has quite a few international folks on the team. Just on my team here in Tulsa, we have two ladies that are sisters from Montenegro. And they came to America to play volleyball. They got volleyball scholarships at an Oklahoma college. That's how they got here.

They just have a fantastic impact on our staff, like their different worldview and the things that they've experienced and different educations that they've had and things like that. That's awesome stuff.

So you touched on the facility, that's a good segue into a question I had around, you were instrumental in fundraising and getting that facility built. What did you learn in that process? You're a tennis guy, right?

Chris Young:

Yeah. I've learned a lot through that process and I learned that you could accomplish anything when you're desperate and hungry enough. I think when I came to Oklahoma State, I coached at Wichita State and we'd come to the courts here and played. But sometimes when you go into a place and you just are there for a few hours and you play the match and you leave and you go, you don't really understand all the nuances that go into it. In Oklahoma state up until 2014, it never had university owned, I mean, athletic department owned tennis facilities. Always just been courts on the campus that were rec center courts.

And so, when I arrived in 2009, that was the case, and we had eight courts and we were fourth on the priority of being able to use those courts. So if there was a tennis class that the university was offering, it got first priority. If the intramurals or the club team on campus wanted to use the courts, they had second priority. And then there was often a third option where they would rent out the facility to someone that was willing to pay certain dollar per court hour. And then we had the option then you can use them whenever they're not free in those certain situations.

I remember one of my first years here, I had sent an email out to some of the local supporters encouraging them to come out to one of matches. And one of the parents replied back to me and said, "I think my daughter's playing a high school tournament at that same time." And I thought that can't be possible, we're a big 12 institution, we have a match with Tulsa, which Tulsa at the time had pretty recently built the Case Tennis Center, which is a $25 million tennis center and one of the best in the country at the time, and still is.

I thought surely, we're not going to have to be bumped for the high school. And I got out and sure enough, the person that was managing the courts for the rec center came out and said, we've got this scheduling conflict. And so, I had to call Tulsa and we moved our match to Tulsa. What was supposed to be a home match then became a road match and I had to get bands and get in the cars, I'm driving there I thought, we got to do something about this. And not only that, but whenever there was bad weather, we had no indoor courts.

So, we borrowed with all the clubs in Oklahoma City or Tulsa, and we would practice. And most of those clubs have junior programs running from 4 to 7:00 PM. So that's their prime time to make money for their club. And so then you get into either practicing at seven to nine o'clock at night in Tulsa or Oklahoma City, or you're practicing in the morning. You're driving all the time, and most of the time you're driving because the weather's too bad to practice at home. And so there's a lot of factors that go into that to where you just realize if I'm going to have a program that's worth anything for the future, we got to do something about this.

So I met with Mike Holder, our athletic director at the time, and with his experience building Carson Creek, we just started to talk about what things look like, and he just challenged me to go out and find people that would get involved with this. And he is like, "There's definitely a need and you have the vision and you have the understanding to sell that better than anybody because you know how it impacts you on a daily basis."

And I think that is so true that in types of situations, a lot of coaches might rely on someone else to go tell the story for them. A fundraiser, a development officer within our program. But they're not impacted on a daily basis, and I can go to a donor or prospective donor and be able to share with them how this really impacts the student athlete experience and how we want to be able to help every program at Oklahoma State be successful. And here's the challenges. I'm in a van four hours a day driving kids to find courts to practice in. It's number one, not very safe. And number two, it's very impactful to their ability to get better as a tennis player or their ability to study because they're spending so much time in a van.

So, I say all that to say, we decided that we were going to try to build 12 outdoor courts and that might take $1.2 million, like $100,000 per court to do fence lights, everything. That's what we had anticipated after doing some quick math.

And so, Coach Holder told me at the time, "Well, you raise 600 and I'll raise 600." And so I thought to myself, well, 600 divided by the 12 courts is $50,000 a court. So I'm going to try to get naming rights for all 12 of the courts for $50,000. There's not many things you can put your name on a Oklahoma State campus for $50,000. So that might appeal to some people that might not even be tennis people, because at this time, we didn't have a very big army of tennis supporters at Oklahoma State that really had much of a care for what was going on with the program, they hadn't been brought in yet.

So, long story short, we wound up getting 12 people to do that. And one of those that was first on board was Michael and Ann Greenwood, and they became to get more invested within our program and coming to the matches, seeing what our players were going through. There was one particular match where we started out and it was about 50 degrees when the match started, we were playing outside, and with the Oklahoma wind and weather, it came in pretty strong and it was in the high 30s by the time we finished. And the last people left was my family and the Greenwoods. And so we began to talk like, we've got to find an indoor solution for this because even in days like this, it has an impact.

We worked through that process. They were very instrumental in the process of designing and developing. And I learned a lot through that process because basically, and I'm so fortunate to work with Mike Holder in that process, he allowed me to kind of take the lead on designing the facility and all aspects of it. When the facility was completed, we had one of the finest facilities I believe in college tennis. And at the time when it was completed in 2014, it was a $17 million facility. We've since added $4 million in improvements, whether it be scoreboards or a fitness center or different things like that.

We've been able to do that and spend very little athletic department funds. We've been able to raise those from personal donors, private donors. And I think that's one of the greatest impacts and legacies that I will have left at Oklahoma State is just being able to put that facility together without the university having to bond it or go in debt or do anything for it. I think that's just a gift we've been able to provide.

And now we've seen the results with our tennis program. Just two years after the facility opened, we played for the national championship. And in 2024, we're going to host the national championships here in Stillwater. So, the facility is something that I told a lot of people when we were raising the money that we wanted to build a facility that was capable of hosting national championships. And to see that pay off and our team to actually play in one since I think has been very rewarding.

Robert Wagner:

Yeah. That is a fantastic story. I love that. I love just helping people see the impact that it's having on the athletes, on the program, on the university, how it reflects on the university. I love that.

I had forgotten, I go way back further than you, but I'd forgotten seeing the tennis team practice over I think it's at the Colvin fields or courts. That's hard to believe that it was that way at one point. Anyway, that's fantastic.

So I want to talk about one more thing, Chris. We're talking about this, that HoganTaylor in various pockets of the firm, it feels like the employee-employer relationship is changing, and it's always moving. Getting away from thinking about our employees, even our best employees being with us for their entire careers, they make partner here or whatever. And we will certainly have that. But most of our employees are here for, we're going to call it a season.

It was actually Aaron that brought this up to me that, this is the coach's world, this is nothing new for a collegiate coach. You get kids for, depending on the sport, all the factors, two years, four years, maybe five years. And they're gone. No matter how good they are, how loyal they are, whatever it is, they're moving on, they have to, this is the way it works. And to have a sustainable program, you got to have a system and a program that just takes good talent, you got to have fantastic talent, no doubt about that, but it just continues to perform at an excellent level.

Maybe coach some of us in the business world about how you do that. How do you have a true program that you can plug people into it and be successful all the time?

Chris Young:

Well, I think it starts at the top. It starts with leadership and being able to have certain standards that you call people up to a higher level than they thought possible. And as a leader, I think that's really important, the greatest leaders can call people up and raise their level and bring them in to a certain standard and expectation, whether it be my team or your company. We're going to strive for excellence here, and this is what excellence looks like in this company. These are the benchmarks, these are the standards, these are the things.

I think it just becomes in our program a way of life. And it's not always results driven. There's certain things in athletics you can't control and you can't control the results. But the one thing we can control is the way that we show up every day, the way that we do things. And I think being process-oriented is so important in that.

We talked to our girls about that this week. We had a really, really tough loss with Texas. They were top five in the country. We were right there inside the top 10. And then we had to turn around two days later and compete against Baylor, who is also really big. And so we talked about, well, we had a little setback here, but we got to stay true to the process and who we are. And the next day we have to show up. The way that our kids showed up on Saturday showed me that we were going to have a chance to win on Sunday.

And so, I think too many times we're very emotional and results driven, and we let so many things that are outside of our purview really control how we perform on a daily basis. And I think it's really important, number one, I think to be just committed to the process and what the process looks like for each organization and company. And we're going to show up every day, and regardless of things are going outside our control, this is what we're going to do. And I think that starts top down. And I think just continuing to invest in people, I think that's really important.

I know that in my world nowadays with the transfer portal and everything else, I might only have the kids for one year. But that's not going to impact the way that I coach them, it's not going to impact the way that I treat them. I'm going to be intentional, I'm going to be genuine, I'm going to be focused on doing things the way that we feel is right here. I think a lot of coaches now because there is so much transition, they coach out of fear, what happens if this person leaves or whatever. And so I'm going to maybe not push as hard or not coach this way because I'm concerned that they have other opportunities out there, and I'm very aware that they could leave at any minute and go to these places.

And I think that that's working out fear or thinking about these circumstances can dictate it, but they may never come to be. And so, as a leader, you talk to my players or your employees about just controlling the things you can control and focusing on those things, but I have to do the same thing, because if they see me worrying about something that could happen in the future and reacting to that, instead of staying true to my values and what is important, then I think it becomes very uncertain leadership. And I think people really follow leaders that are certain, that they know they have a vision.

I think that's really unhealthy for your organization if the leaders are not being able to be really clear with where the vision is going. And it's tough because you'd have to rely then on the leadership within the organization and have to rely on our players that are the leaders. And when you lose those leaders that are so impactful to your program, being able to bring a new group in behind them is sometimes challenging.

But I think there's so many different phases. You have to be coaching up the current leaders that you have, you have to be developing future leaders that are going to take their place and getting them to see, okay, this is why I'm asking this person who's a leader now to do this. One day you're going to be in those footsteps, notice how they're doing it. You're not always going to lead in the same way, but be able to see, okay, if I was in that position, what would I have done? How would I have done that? And kind of talking them through.

I think you'll always have different people at different stages and being able as the ultimate coach or leader in my world, to be able to coach the kids up at all different stages of their career, and to be able to analyze and see where they're at and see what they need at each stage of that. I think that is really important. It's challenging I'm sure in a large company like yours because you have so many people. It's also challenging in a small group like mine because everything is magnified. When you only have eight to 10 kids, everything is so much bigger and calls so much attention, everything that comes up.

I think it's just really understanding who you are, where your program is and how you got there, and trying to have a system that you're changing all the time based on your personnel and what your personnel needs, but you're not sacrificing the values and characteristics that got you to where you are as a company. And I hope that answers your question.

Robert Wagner:

That was really, really good. And we've circled back to culture again and having principles that we're just going to stand by. Those never change. So, that's really good stuff.

Chris Young:

I think it goes to, just last thing I would just say is, I don't want to always define the culture, I want to empower the people that are working with me, my athletes, to help define that culture as well. And the greatest thing they can do is mentor those below them. And so, if I empower my leaders to really mentor the people that are around them, when they come in, they welcome them and they try to help them.

And the most challenging thing I think in an organization as a team, is for my leaders to prepare people that might one day take their job, might one day be in their position for a variety of reasons. And do we have the culture that's healthy enough that my juniors or seniors might be mentoring a freshman in a way, and that freshman might rise up and take that starting position or whatever. Or that they're mentoring them so one day they do take their job as they pass on. And so, I think empowering leadership is really important.

Robert Wagner:

Well, Chris, it's been a fantastic conversation, and we're coming to the close. But we do have five questions that we ask every guest. So you're ready?

Chris Young:

I'm ready.

Robert Wagner:

All right. So what was the first way you made money?

Chris Young:

Say that one more time.

Robert Wagner:

What was the first way that you made money?

Chris Young:

First way I made money, mowing yards.

Robert Wagner:

Okay. All right. So if you were not a division one tennis coach, what do you think you would be doing?

Chris Young:

I really enjoy leadership. I would love to be in a position just helping other leaders. Could be administration as well. I think that's something that I would like to do in the future.

Robert Wagner:

I'm pretty sure you will. You've got the mental thing going and the philosophies I think that are built for that. So no concern about your success and that future endeavor, if you go that direction. So what would you tell your 20 year old self?

Chris Young:

I think not to be results-driven but process-oriented. When I was younger, I felt like I had so much to prove to everyone, and I was driven by proving people what I could achieve. I think that can get short term results, but not long term success. I think just being true to yourself and not focusing on the approval of others as much.

Robert Wagner:

All right. So question four is what will the title of your book be?

Chris Young:

Title of the book. There's a book that a friend of mine wrote called What Drives Winning. I would say character drives winning. I've always kind of really put a big emphasis on what winning looks like maybe in the right way. So maybe I would shape it to that, what winning looks like, because I think it can be defined in so many ways.

Robert Wagner:

Okay. Well, I hope you write it. That's excellent. What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Chris Young:

I think when I was early in my career, a guy told me, he said, people are not going to come support you because you're winning, they're going to come support you because you supported them first. I thought that was really interesting as a coach, I think a lot of times we think that people come out and support us because we put a winning product out there. And then some sports that's going to be true in football, basketball, for sure.

But in a sport like tennis, the majority of people that have contributed to our program and that come to our matches, some of them have never played tennis in their life, but our program has impacted their life in some positive way, whether it be our players or myself or our staff. We've done something that has touched them. And so they, they in turn, give back to us.

It's been one of the greatest things that I've learned in this process is it's more just about how you treat people and how you impact their life, that's what leads them to want to support you.

Robert Wagner:

Excellent. All right, Chris, what a fantastic conversation and a great way to close there. Thanks so much for being with us. If folks want to find out more about you or want to find out more about Cowgirl tennis, how can they do that?

Chris Young:

I would think just our social media. I'm @CoachChrisYoung on Instagram and Twitter and those types of things. And then @Cowgirltennis, they can find that on all the social medias, and I think our guys do a great job of putting out content for us. If you're doing that and then just, okstate.com, you can kind of follow along the journey of our team. We're kind of in the home stretch of our season right now, as you mentioned, we're ranked number 11 in the country. We're 12 in three, and I think we're going to make a good run here in the post-season. So we'll see where that takes us.

Robert Wagner:

Awesome. Awesome, Chris, again, thanks so much, really appreciate it. Appreciate your time.

That's all for this episode of How That Happened. Thank you for listening. Be sure to visit howthathappened.com for show notes and additional episodes. You can also subscribe to our show on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast, or Stitcher. Thanks again for listening.

This content is for information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Copyright 2022 HoganTaylor LLP, all rights reserved. To view the HoganTaylor general terms and conditions, visit Hogantaylor.com.


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