When Steve Paulsen looks back on his coaching career, he tries not to focus on the wins and losses.
But his record – 608 wins and 17 losses – tells quite a story.
Paulsen, a USPTA Elite Professional, coached high school tennis in Minnesota for over 30 years until his retirement in October. His teams won 26 state championships.
“The kids, once they get into the program, they make a commitment and make it their own,” Paulsen said of the championship tradition at Edina High School. “They realize they truly didn’t want it to end on their watch. They did whatever was needed.”
It started in 1988, when he took over the boys’ tennis team. They won three state championships in his first five years. Five years later, he took over the girls’ team, which at the time had won 14 consecutive state championships. They won again in Paulsen’s first year, but didn’t make it back to the top for four years after that.
Then, in 1997, Paulsen and Edina began another era of dominance. The Edina girls’ tennis team won 19 straight Minnesota state championships from 1997 to 2015. In October, after capturing his 23rd girls’ state championship, Paulsen called it a career.
“I would have kids whose sister and the sister’s friends would realize that they’re having a good time, not only on the court but just the experience itself is a good experience,” Paulsen said. “It feeds on itself. Once you start getting that – we created a pretty good culture where kids want to come out to tennis and want to learn and want to have fun.”
That culture is essential to Edina’s sustained success over the years. It’s rooted in the way some of Paulsen’s coaches, Whitney Aus and Jim Holden, were with him.
“At the beginning, he didn’t know a lot about tennis, but he knew a lot about life,” Paulsen said of Holden. “He was a great role model for me. I’m still friends with him today. He’s been supportive of me throughout all my years as a coach and everything else.
“He went beyond the Xs and Os of coaching. He taught a lot about life, too. Very impactful.”
Throughout the years, Paulsen worked to impart the same lessons Holden taught him into his own students. He would use a word of the day – character, integrity, class, respect, among others – and would have his students relate to it, “both the match that they’re about to play but in life in general.”
“I try to develop relationships with the kids where we can have an open and honest conversation about how they’re doing,” Paulsen said. “I think it makes it much easier to coach to know the players, to know what they’re going through.”
Paulsen is walking away from coaching high school, but he still works as the Director of Racquet Sports at Interlachen Country Club in Edina and teaches at Life Time Fitness in Lakeville, Minn. He says the reality that, come fall, he won’t be coaching Edina tennis hasn’t quite hit him yet.
But if his high school coaching career had to come to an end, it came to one as sweet as could be. A couple weeks after announcing the season would be his last, Edina lifted a third consecutive state championship trophy, and dozens of his former players were there to see it.
In its own way, the next chapter of the Edina girls’ tennis story is Paulsen’s proudest. A few weeks after retiring, Jaime Gaard Chapman, a former player of Paulsen’s who won five state championships, was named girls’ head tennis coach.
“It means the world,” Paulsen said of her appointment. “During this retirement, I had so many people that have reconnected. It’s very rewarding for me to see them doing so well. I think probably 10 to 15 of my former players are coaching at some level in tennis. To see that is pretty special. For me to parlay some of that information, some of the experiences they had through me in tennis is really cool. It doesn’t get any better than that.”