Home Court Advantage

Home Court Advantage
Home Court Advantage
By Sacha Zimmerman

Eric Singletary ’93 and Logan West ’01 on sports as a sanctuary, culture as a philosophy, and kids as the heartbeat behind everything they do.

Head of School Bryan Garman, the host of Lives That Speak, the podcast of Sidwell Friends, spoke to two alumni coaches: head basketball coach Eric Singletary ’93 and head tennis coach Logan West ’01. Both were multi-sport athletes during their time at Sidwell Friends, and both found their passion for coaching once they returned.

BRYAN GARMAN: I have great admiration for both of you in how you coach, how you lead your teams, and the culture you set for your teams. Take us back to what you got out of your Sidwell Friends experience and how the athletic program contributed to that.

LOGAN WEST: Athletics and academics at Sidwell Friends really challenges you and teaches you management skills. Sidwell prepared me very well to go on to play college tennis at Dartmouth and to be a student athlete in that setting. The coaches and mentors we had here taught me a lot of grit and didn’t just prepare me physically, but mentally. I also wrestled, and if I could handle getting out there on the mat and challenging myself in that fashion, the tennis match was going to be easy. Having that confidence and that presence when you walk on the court, knowing that I’ve been through the fire and I believe that I’ve been through more than my opponent, and I’m ready to outlast them and do whatever it takes, is so important.

ERIC SINGLETARY: I grew up in a tough neighborhood here as a native Washingtonian; coming to Sidwell Friends as a new student in 9th grade wasn’t easy. Sports was tremendous for me to be able to get a peer group right away as I transitioned into a brand-new community academically and socially. There were so many different—not obstacles, but opportunities—and they were all new. Playing sports and being a talented athlete in basketball, baseball, and football immediately allowed me to be friends with older guys who could show me the ropes of the School. That was more important than the sport itself. The sport was a place of refuge from challenges that I had academically. I always say that Sidwell Friends taught me that I was truly tougher than I thought I was. I was able to master time management and self-advocacy, or to ask for help, which is one of the things that boys in general struggle with and Black boys in particular struggle even more with. Once I mastered those skills, I was able to maneuver at Sidwell in a very positive way. But I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have the sense of belonging through sports.


BG: Tell us about your experiences at college and how you ended up coming back here.

ES: I was completely prepared for college. I went to Rice. I always say that college was easier than Sidwell, and I certainly had to work hard there, but I was prepared to do it. My experience there totally was manifested by all the challenges and obstacles that I overcame here when I was at Sidwell Friends.

LW: To echo that, I always tell the students that I thought the transition from 8th to 9th grade at Sidwell Friends was harder than the transition from Sidwell to Dartmouth.

ES: When you’re a young athlete, you want to be a pro. I was fortunate enough to play a little bit of professional basketball in Europe—Portugal and Germany—for a couple of years. I went to Sidwell, had a tremendous education, and tremendous education at Rice, so that caveat, that nugget of trying to hold onto my sports life was challenging. Before I even got into coaching, I was considering starting a nonprofit that would help athletes adjust to transitioning into normal life. A lot of guys struggle with that transition. When I came back to DC, I originally worked in a law firm because I was like, “Alright, I got to do something that makes sense. After all, I went to Sidwell, and I went to Rice.” But I always had coaching in my blood. I always loved the sport of basketball, but I just didn’t think I could be a coach and still justify the two institutions that I went to academically. But once I let that go and started getting into coaching more at the youth level, I’ve been incredibly happy, and it’s been fulfilling.

I started with Little League coaching, like youth rec-league basketball with 8-year-olds. A lot of people don’t know that I cut my teeth dealing with the small kids and the amount of teaching that goes into that. And then I took that group all the way up to 13, 14 years old. And then Gonzaga noticed how well I was doing. My first coaching job was assistant coach at Gonzaga. When Sidwell called me and offered me the head coach job, I wasn’t going to take it because I didn’t think I was ready. Then I remembered a mentor of mine saying, “You’re never ready until you start.” And I found my life’s purpose.

LW: For me, I graduated from Dartmouth and went to law school. I even practiced law for a couple years. My first coaching job was as an assistant here at Sidwell and helping out with the varsity team. The coach called me up and said, “Hey, can you come out and hit with some of our singles players this spring?” And I said, “Sure, this will be a lot of fun, great workout, get some exercise.” And I started working with the kids and realizing how they just soaked up everything that you told them and I just realized how rewarding it was. I found my purpose and my passion with making a difference and getting those student athletes to become more self-confident, to develop that grit, and to really be able to have an impact. The middle and high school level, where we have the opportunity to coach, really include some of those formative years where you can make a huge difference in taking a student who might not be confident in their skills and showing them what they’re capable of if they put in the hard work.


BG: How do you describe our kids and what makes them so much fun to work with?

LW: There’s just an excitement and joy that they come to the courts with, and Eric touched on it with when he talked about sports being a refuge. I always thought of the tennis court as my sanctuary, so no matter how much work I had, tests I had coming up, or anything that was going on in my personal life, I always felt that when I walked onto the court, all of that melted away and I had one hour, hour and a half, two hours to just enjoy hitting tennis balls. The kids, when they come to the tennis court or the basketball court or into the wrestling room, you see that exuberance and that joy to compete and to learn. There’s a concept I read about called the Beginner’s Creed, which as adults we lose a lot, but the kids still have it. It’s when you embrace the wonder and the joy of learning something new. The older we get, the more we are afraid of trying because we’re expected to know everything already. And if we make a mistake, then we’re going to be judged, whereas a lot of these kids will just jump in and do it.

ES: I agree. The kids’ openness, their ability to transform the information that we give is great. Given the brightness and curiosity of our students and how they’re challenged academically, and as an extremely diverse community, that’s all part of our strength. That plays out on the courts and the fields. I’m always amazed by them. Logan and I talk about it all the time. How are they so good? How are they so able to do so many things, like play on a sport, be in the play, play an instrument, do well in school, community service, just be involved in different political movements or whatever they’re doing? They just do it all. I’m always thinking that’s the uniqueness of our school, and I’m always celebrating that we’re at a small, private, independent school with the strongest admission process. All these things that you would think might speak against us being highly competitive. So, that’s credit to the kids. I mean, obviously we have some wonderful coaches here, wonderful teachers. But at the end of the day, the heartbeat of the School is driven through the students’ ability to do it all.

BG: I’ve heard you both speak about this a lot: Culture matters. What does that look like and how important is that to the success that you’ve had?

LW: The success of our programs is only possible with a strong foundation of culture. To speak to my sport, in an individual sport, players are used to going to tournaments and being on an island. It’s all about them. They have their own individual rankings. It’s important for us to create an environment where they buy into a team-first culture where it doesn’t matter if you’re playing number-one singles or number-three doubles. Each one of those matches counts the same to the team outcome. So, we’re going to push each other as hard as we can in practice, and the more we can get quality reps and push each other to be better, those rising tides are going to raise all ships.

You want to have that environment where the students feel like they’re part of a family. And that takes time to build. One of the proudest moments I’ve had—beyond winning banners or national rankings for our programs or players that have gone on to college—was when the girls’ team was fighting to stay in the upper division of the Independent School League (ISL), and we had just lost a tough match against Flint Hill to be eliminated in the ISL tournament. We sat down in a circle together after the match to debrief, and we had several seniors. This was their last high school tennis match, and a lot of girls were in tears, but every one of them talked about what they were going to remember about Sidwell tennis and how this team felt like a family. That meant more to me than anything else because it meant that they had gotten a tremendous experience and they had built relationships with their teammates that were going to last beyond their time on the courts and beyond their time at Sidwell. Yes, we’re coaches and we teach the fundamentals, but at the end of the day, we are creating experiences for our student athletes to be able to thrive, to be able to develop skills that they’ll take beyond the courts and the playing fields when they leave here, and relationships that will last hopefully for a lifetime.


BG: And that’s a hallmark of Sidwell Friends, right? I mean, you’re both alumni, you can speak to the deep friendships that you carry with you.

ES: Hundred percent. I want to give a lot of credit to you, Bryan, and the leadership of the School, because a place like Sidwell Friends can certainly just hold on to traditions to make ourselves feel good. But when it comes to culture, the culture is only allowed to change when the culture above it changes. Sidwell has changed in some really positive ways. It continues to evolve, and I always say that culture is very fragile. It’s ripping at the threads every day. You have to work really hard to maintain it every day. It has to be that important to you. I always tell people: “We don’t have a good culture because we win. We win because we have a good culture.” And when we win, I win twice: once as a coach and once as an alum.

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