Allison Davidson is old enough to drive a car. She’s old enough to serve her country in the military. And she is certainly able to gain entry into any of the local watering holes, ranging from Traditions to Last Call.
So why, only a few months after earning her college diploma, wouldn’t she be able to get a chance to coach the women’s tennis team that she captained last season?
Can’t think of any good reason here.
St. John’s hired the 22-year-old former tennis player over the summer to be the team’s head coach.
“They respected me as a captain,” Davidson said of her players and her former teammates, “and they all respect me as a coach as well.”
Age has become an important topic of discussion in sports lately.
Court decisions last year allowed the National Football League to prevent Ohio State’s Maurice Clarett and the University of Southern California’s Mike Williams from entering the league’s draft because they were less than two full seasons out of high school.
This past year, the National Basketball Association instituted a new rule that would keep players from entering the draft unless they are at least 19-years-old.
With all of this ageism going on in sports, players who have just left their teen years √¢?” and some who haven’t √¢?” are excelling professionally in different sports: Freddy Adu (16) in soccer; Lebron James (20) in basketball; and Maria Sharapova (18) in tennis.
Not to mention, ahem, former St. John’s closer Craig Hansen (21) in baseball √¢?” even though as I write this he’s only made one major-league appearance for the Boston Red Sox.
But, I digress. Youth is, indeed, a hot topic. Should it be embraced? Shunned?
Well, St. John’s is taking its own tact. In the past few seasons, the school has been on a bit of a youth movement with the coaches they have hired.
Men’s basketball coach Norm Roberts is only 40, younger than some of the other candidates for the job when he was hired in April 2004 and a lot more youthful than coaching legends who are still around like John Chaney (73), Lute Olsen (71) and Eddie Sutton (69).
Women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico, 32, is only a shade over a decade from being in college herself.
Debbie DeJong, St. John’s softball coach, and Ambry Bishop, the coach of the women’s golf team, are even younger.
DeJong, who took over for the departed Melody Cope last season, is only five years removed from Rutgers.
Last season, Bishop, at age 22, was the youngest coach in Division-I when she led her team to the Big East Championship.
St. John’s went with just as young a hire over the summer when they named Davidson head tennis coach after the departure of Gemma Alexander-Mozeak. Davidson is one of the youngest coaches in Division-I athletics. But don’t think her lack of experience is worrying her players √¢?” most of them are former teammates.
“I like her as a coach because she’s so intense, so thorough about things,” said Alison Adamski, this season’s women’s tennis captain.
However, the hiring procedure wasn’t quite an easy one, even for the unassuming Davidson, a Cedar Falls, Iowa native.
Because this is her first coaching gig, she did not quite expect the level of scrutiny she would be exposed to. Davidson cited a few interviews in an isolated chair, being asked questions by administrators in the athletic department who were seated in front of her at a long table.
“I don’t even know what happened,” said the very Midwestern blue-eyed, blonde-haired Davidson. “I think I blacked out during the whole process.”
Once she got the job, the main obstacle was facing her former teammates.
“The only difficult part was establishing the line between friendship and coach,” Davidson said. “And the girls know once we’re on the court, once we’re in a match, once we’re in competition, that it’s ‘coach.’ This is what you’re going to do because I say so. I don’t have to get belligerent or anything.”
Blurring the coach-friend line was not a real problem for Adamski, a Queens native and Mary Louis Academy graduate.
“I thought it would be hard for [me] to differentiate her from being my friend to being my coach,” Adamski said, “but it’s fine. I respect her as a coach.”
But Davidson realizes the almost ludicrous nature of going from friend to authority figure – almost literally overnight.
“I know some players might have a problem with someone ordering them around who’s [only] two years older,” Davidson said.
Another main problem with hiring a head coach right out of college?
But what Davidson lacks in experience she gains in being able to relate to and communicating with her players. Davidson already established herself as an able captain and an ally.
“I was in their position last year,” Davidson said. “I know what they want. I know how valuable time is.”
The nature of an athlete has changed from previous decades. Generation Y, or whatever the pop culture marketing people want to call it, has never responded well to authority figures and the autocratic nature of some older people. And hey, let’s be honest, college students have never fully appreciated the thoughts and wishes of elders.
So why haven’t more schools hired young, eager head coaches? Academic institutions are afraid to rock the boat, they never want to break precedent. They’ll sooner bring in a mediocre older coach with plenty of experience than an exuberant, fresh-out-of-college coach with infinite potential.
The idea is a no-brainer, especially when the player is a former respected athlete in the very sport he or she is going to coach.
“I know what is expected of a Division- I tennis player,” Davidson said. “And because I know what’s expected, I can continually push that.”
But who’s going to make the needed push for schools to start making smarter, more youthful coaching hires?