Head coach Hayden Perez has the University of Women’s tennis team off to a fast start so far this year.
A three-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year and associate coach of the 2013 Big Ten co-champions Nebraska, he has led the Tigers to a 3-1 record in his fourth season at Memphis.
Perez is a native of Abilene, Texas. During his time at Abilene High School, he captured a state tennis title in 1994, but Perez did not start off playing tennis as a kid.
“I grew up playing soccer up until around middle school,” Perez said. “I didn’t start playing tennis until I was around 14. My mom was a recreational tennis player and one day she needed a partner for doubles. I picked up the racket for the first time and fell in love with it right then.”
A big part of his coaching style stems from two people — Kim Gidley, his high school assistant coach, and James Helvey, his college head coach at Cameron University. Perez was a graduate assistant for Helvey and later a volunteer coach from 2001 to 2002.
“They were very influential in what I became,” Perez said. “They both took me under their wings and helped me improve daily in practice.”
He took his first head coaching position at the University of Wyoming in 2003. After associate head coaching positions at Texas Tech and Nebraska, he became head coach of the Tigers in 2014.
He took what he learned from Gidley and Helvey and implemented it into his own coaching style, Perez said.
“Details,” Perez said. “Generally we want to focus on the small things, good footwork and good effort. We work on how our players approach matches and how they keep focus and stay aggressive during the match.”
Perez enjoys coaching and finds joy in interacting with his players.
“I love spending time with the kids,” Perez said. “It is a lot of fun to be around this diverse group. They’re a hard-working, dedicated bunch.”
Josephine Cao, Kansas native and one of three freshmen on the team, describes her coach as “energetic, loud (and) sometimes acts like a child,” but that’s what she likes about him.
“Coach Perez's personality, I would say, is one-of-a-kind,” Josephine said. “He is a really goofy person. It's easy for us to talk to him about issues. We banter back and forth a lot, and we are basically children when we are around each other. It's just a fun environment. He calls me Bang Bang.”
Perez emphasizes three things that Cao says he preaches daily.
“During both practices and games his main things to do is: effort, attitude, and sportsmanship,” Josephine said. “Always give 100 percent effort. Always have a good attitude even when you're losing. Always have good sportsmanship on and off the court.”
Josephine’s twin sister, Katherine, echoed her feelings about their coach.
“Hayden’s personality is very encouraging, caring, competitive and funny,” Katherine said. “The best advice I've received from him so far is that everything will fall into place if I have a good attitude on court and give it my best effort.”
Women’s tennis head coach Hayden Perez encourages his team during the match. Perez helped head Nebraska to five NCAA tournaments and one Sweet Sixteen.