Not your typical coach, Garland Ott provides unconventional wisdom

It’s been more than 35 years since Ronald Reagan stated, during his first inaugural address, “Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.” We discovered heroes in every state, starting with the determined 69-year-old who won a match at an ITF Pro Circuit event earlier this year in the Alabama town of Pelham, and culminating with the coach who has overcome multiple sclerosis to build a winning program at the University of Wyoming. Their compelling stories of courage, perseverance and achievement demonstrate that the message delivered by our 40th President rings as true today as it did then.

Garland “Gar” Ott isn’t your typical tennis coach.

He has introduced hundreds of children to the game in his hometown of Charles Town, WV, yet he’s never taken a lesson himself. In fact, he didn’t pick up a racquet until he went to college at nearby Shepherd University in 1958.

Charles Town had just one tennis court at the time, and when the city installed lights, it became a hangout for local students. It wasn’t long before Ott was showing up to play at noon and leaving when the lights turned off at 10:00 p.m.

“I wasn’t very good at all at first,” Ott says. “I never had any instruction, but I learned from watching people play. My technique still isn’t textbook, but it’s about making it work.”

Not your typical coach, Garland Ott provides unconventional wisdom

Not your typical coach, Garland Ott provides unconventional wisdom

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Ott spent 46 years in the Navy after earning his graduate degree in mathematics, but he was never far from the tennis court. In 1975, he started volunteering as a coach for a group of middle-school boys called the Jefferson Juniors. True to his unconventional roots, Ott’s practices focus more on thought than technique.

“The most important thing is to think on the court,” says Ott. “No matter how many lessons you’ve had, you have to move the ball around the court and think about where your opponent is going to be.”

Ott has remained a faithful coaching presence for local juniors for over 40 years. Presented with the USTA Mid-Atlantic’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, he now heads the Jefferson Juniors program and hosts open hitting sessions every weekend.

The 75-year-old has given much over the years, and he receives plenty of thank yous from the many generations of players he’s worked with.

“It means more to me that I’ve helped them become a better person than a better tennis player,” says Ott.