At practice, Bobby Pennington won’t stay on the sidelines. Grabbing a racket, the self-described players’ coach gets in on the action, serving tennis balls and his quintessential humor to young athletes.
The 39-year-old leader of Colgate’s men’s and women’s tennis teams came to the University in 2006. Through the years, he’s created a community both on and off the court while coaching the Raiders to victory.
Snag a spot on the bleachers and get to know Pennington:
Colgate Magazine: How would you describe Colgate’s tennis program?
Bobby Pennington: One thing I’m really proud of is, over the years, we always overachieve. We’re not scared to beat teams that are, on paper, better than us. It drives us; it’s the underdog role. We play above our level. A lot of that is confidence.
CM: The 2018 men’s tennis season brought you the most wins since 1998. How did that feel?
BP: It was really rewarding. I had a lot of success early — both in my first and third years. On the men’s side, we’ve had five straight winning seasons. Last year was the culmination. Getting third out of 10 teams, plus making the semifinals and having 15 wins — it was a lot of cool milestones.
CM: What’s your coaching philosophy?
BP: A lot of coaches get comfortable. They get burnout. Each year, I get hungrier. I have a passion for it.
CM: Do the fans support the tennis teams?
BP: We get a lot of fans at our matches — especially home crowds, which is exciting. Many of our guys are in fraternities, and they bring out their brothers.
CM: Does the team take part in any philanthropic efforts?
BP: The Heart Awareness matches have been rewarding the last few years. All the money raised goes to Golisano Children’s Hospital. My son, Clifford, had life-saving open-heart surgery there, and the match benefits pediatric heart awareness.
That time was also a great example of team support. I took a leave, and when I came back, they had CliffStrong bracelets made. That meant a lot to me.
CM: How do you keep tennis fun for the players?
BP: We do a lot of group games with all the teams. There’s a game that they love called Space Invaders. They also love listening to music on the court — keeping it loose. But then, when it’s time to get serious, it’s time to get serious.
I consider myself the epitome of a players’ coach — they call me “coachie.” I can light into them, but at the same time I try to coach them like I would have preferred to have been coached when I was in college. I was coached with a lot of pressure and seriousness. I try to blend that with innovative and interactive group games.
CM: How do you attract recruits?
BP: I tell them that they can get a top-notch liberal arts education and play Division I tennis. That’s huge. You don’t get that a lot of places.