Armando Espinosa fell in love with the sport of tennis when he was a young boy. He knew when he picked up that fuzzy yellow ball that it was the sport for him. He would begin by playing in a club and would later start playing competitively.
What began as something fun and something to do on weekends, he would later find out it was his calling and would begin coaching for the Iowa State Cyclone women’s team late in his tennis career.
The Journey of Coaching
Espinosa's first tennis lesson as a child was when he was 12 years old. His family belonged to a club and he started out playing recreationally on weekends. Later, his mother signed him up to play competitively.
“The club only had 10 courts and there was a lot of people, so you could only play doubles for a certain amount of time," Espinosa said. "In order to play singles, you had to go at a certain time, sometimes it was too early or too late and I would rather play doubles”.
Espinosa took that love for tennis and played at Drury University, while studying criminology and sociology. He started his freshman year as the No. 1 player, but after that first year, his doubles partner came in and played No. 1.
“I didn’t mind playing No. 2, it took a little pressure off of me for sure," Espinosa said. "It was a lot of fun to play for that team, I have a lot of great memories playing for Drury.”
During his first year at Drury, his team didn't make nationals, but his second year, they went to nationals. His third year, the team inched closer to that championship title as they reached the quarterfinals.
Finally, his fourth and last year, Espinosa left Drury's tennis team ranked No. 1 in the country. After college, Espinosa had the option to go pro, but later found out it was not for him.
“It was a completely different environment in those days because there were only two types of professional tournaments, you were either the challenger or you could play the satellites," Espinosa said.
The challenger tournaments were played by all the best players in the country and winning the tournament would result in a $50,000 reward. It was difficult though because you had to beat some of the top ranked players around the world.
The satellite tournaments required a lot of money because it would require you to play four weeks in different parts of the country. You also had to perform very well, otherwise you would be eliminated and all the money used for the tournament would go down the drain.
Instead of going professional, Espinosa decided to go back to school. He went to Arizona State to get his masters in justice studies. While there, he began working with the men's tennis team.
“During that time, I was certain I knew what I wanted to do," Espinosa said. “Theres a big difference in being a tennis coach compared to being a college coach. As a tennis coach you control over your athlete and time demand.
"As a college coach their education is a priority and the season is established at a certain time you have to make a lot of adaptations to your training regiment that you wouldn't if you were a regular coach.”
Maty Cancini, sophomore from Venezuela, and has been coached by Espinosa for two years now has had first-hand experience with Espinosa as a coach.
“He’s a really great coach," Cancini said. “He understands what players are going through in terms of tennis and in your life. You can talk to him about anything.”
The best advice she's been given is sometimes you cannot have control over everything. You can't control what your opponent will do, all you can control is yourself and not worry about anything else.
Just play the game of tennis.
Cancini said Espinosa has a lot of experience during his coaching career, so he can help with any type of issue or just a general question. His experiences have helped Cancini become the tennis player she is today.
Espinosa is very proud of his team but said there are still things for them to keep improving upon.
“For us to keep improving, the wins will come if we raise our tennis IQ and we have been working on that quite a bit lately," Espinosa said. "Trying to establish some patterns to believe that this team can be successful, and if we can do that the wins will come to us.”
Espinosa's New Team
Espinosa is in his 11th season at Iowa State and his 10th as head coach of the Cyclone women’s tennis team. In 2008-09 season, Espinosa served as the interim head coach and was promoted to head coach at the end of the season.
Even after 11 years of being the head coach, Espinosa still enjoys the sport and still feels rewarded when a player and the team does well.
Espinosa’s favorite thing about Iowa State is its fans.
“They're amazing," Espinosa said. "Especially since beating No. 4 TCU [in football]. I've been here when [the football team] beat Oklahoma State and TCU, the energy of the crowd during and after the game has been my favorite memory so far.”
Annabella Bonadonna, junior from Venezuela, has been coached by Espinosa for three years now and she's impressed by the way he plays everyone to their strengths. That philosophy then leads to wins on the court.
"Coach Espinosa always puts in the best people to fit their best game for every match," Bonadonna said. "He will not put anyone in where they will feel uncomfortable or fail. I appreciate this very much because I know when I arrive for a match I can feel confident in my playing ability and feel very comfortable when I step onto the court."
When Bonadonna came to Iowa State, her game approach was more aggressive. She would try and attack every point, but soon realized she couldn't play this way in college.
Espinosa helped her switch her style of play to more of a defensive approach. This allowed her to attack when needed, but otherwise, she waited for her opponent to make the mistakes.
“What makes Espinosa different from other coaches is I've never had a coach that has taken care of me on and off the court," Bonadonna said. "If I have any problems with academics or anything he will be there for me. I feel very comfortable with him.
"He would do anything for me and I would do anything for him.”