Mickael Sopel has taken over the head coaching position for the men’s and women’s tennis teams, spurring a slight revolution with the addition of his new coaching technique.
Sopel, a native of Paris, France, was the assistant coach under Mark Klysner last year and comes from a background where he worked with some of France’s top tennis players. He served as an assistant coach at the Jean-Marie Castera Academy – Vieux-Bouco in France, was a two-time NAIA Academic All-American in tennis and ran cross-country as a student at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho. Sopel was also the assistant tennis coach for three years at Gonzaga University in Washington before heading to Youngstown State University.
“This is what I was working for all of those years — this was my goal — to coach my own team,” Sopel said.
Sopel has inherited many of the coaching techniques that Klysner initiated with him and the team, but has brought some of his own approaches this year as well.
“Mark and I established a system together and worked the same way, and I kept a lot of that going,” he said.
One new technique Sopel has brought for both teams is individual focuses, by setting up personal practices and meetings.
“That’s something that I carry on from my experience as a player. I’ve worked with different people and coaches, and even in France, and I’m trying to take little things from all of those experiences and incorporate into my coaching experience here,” Sopel said.
His cross-country coach was the first to introduce this technique, and Sopel said he feels it is important to communicate constantly with his players.
Margarita Sadovnikova, a senior majoring in general studies at YSU, said she feels that moving Sopel to head coach was a smart decision.
“It’s really good he is the head coach, because we know him and how he works, so we know what to expect,” Sadovnikova said.
Another senior player this year, Carolyn Jesko, agrees with Sadovnikova and said she enjoys the amount of focus Sopel puts on each individual player.
“He’s definitely stepped up taking over the head coaching position,” Jesko said.
Sopel obtained the assistant coaching job because of the mutual contacts him and Klysner shared. He said he enjoys the city and is adapting to the change. He contributes this easy transition to the YSU Athletic Department.
“Some departments usually don’t care about tennis, and here you feel that it is a sport just like any other sport. It’s not just about football, and that’s not necessarily the case at other schools,” Sopel said.
Coming from overseas to the United States was also a big transition for Sopel, and for many of the players on his teams.
“We’re international and came to the U.S. — we had that journey in common,” he said. “I made the same sacrifices and had the same things happen to me. We had to go overseas to study and to play tennis, which is different than someone who is local.”
Sopel has recruitment on his agenda as head coach and is ready to take on this process.
“One difference with tennis than other sports, especially in NCAA, is it’s a very global sport,” Sopel said.
His philosophy for recruiting new players, he said, will be to look at a student’s academics, tennis level and personality. He also said he is opening his doors to players from all over the world to find the best fit for the team.
Another goal on Sopel’s to-do list is one every coach aspires for at the beginning of a season.
“Win conference. I don’t want to end any other way than that,” Sopel said.
The teams have been taking on away tournaments during off seasons. This has given players an opportunity to learn more about their coach.
“He is an awful driver! He is a French driver still,” Sadovnikova said.