Coach Roland Thornqvist: Winning Coaches Never Stop Learning

Lahnee Pavlovich
Head of Research and Writing

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Since publishing this article in early May 2017, Coach Roland Thornqvist has won another National Championship in late May 2017.

Have you ever wondered what successful Coaches do differently? How they manage to amass title after title and build a team culture athletes want to be part of?

The first thing we noticed with winning Coaches is that they never sit back and become complacent. Instead, the fact that they don’t is what sets them apart from the rest. Winning Coaches are always learning, always striving for the 0.1% and this set them up for success game after game, year after year.

And that’s exactly what University of Florida’s Head Women’s Tennis Coach Roland Thornqvist has done.

winning coaches

When it comes to winning National Championships, Roland Thornqvist knows a thing or two. The Gators Head Coach has three under his belt and his teams have qualified for the NCAA Tournament every year. He attributes much of this success to investing in knowledge.

In his 16th year with the Florida Gators, Coach Thornqvist believes in building confident players who can stand on their own two feet out on the court.

“By the time we hand them the balls, they need to be able to make their own decisions,” he said.

“To get to that point requires the foundations of great, trusting relationships between athletes and between athletes and Coach. We need to develop confidence in our players and create an environment where they can reach that state. Especially when working in an individual sport like tennis,”

“As a Coach, I need to be able to put my finger on the team pulse, but also be able to work with the different people on my team as individuals and make them all feel valued. To do that requires quality relationships and a deeper understanding of each person on the team.”

Which is one reason why he sought out Athlete Assessments.

“Working with Athlete Assessments and using their DISC Profiles has been revolutionary,” he said. “Knowledge is key and we should never stop learning. Learning is how you become the best Coach you can be.”

“Working with Bo and Liz hs been a fantastic experience not only for me, but for the entire team. Our players have gained so much from learning about their own profiles and those of the rest of the team,” Coach Thornqvist said.

After working with Athlete Assessments, it created a greater awareness that we all have different skills and all bring something to the team. It made practice drills so much easier because the team embraced the challenge of learning to work with others they might not normally. It helped shape the culture and environment on our team which is so important because Florida First is something we just don’t compromise on. With so many great players, our team goals must come first.”

winning coaches

Coach Thornqvist entered into coaching after leaving the Pro Tennis Tour as a player himself back in his Senior year.

“I originally got into coaching to keep myself busy while I was studying, but I quickly fell in love with it,” he said.

“My time with Florida has evolved so much since day one too. I now have the best administrative and support team anyone could ask for which means I can really focus on coaching and recruiting. My days consist of making sure our players are at the right place physically and emotionally – the director of the star-ship if you will.”

For Coach Thornqvist, the fact that college sport demands you wear two hats is what gets him excited in his role.

winning coaches

“I love that you aren’t just one thing for your team. You are the General Manager and the Coach. And you win or lose based on one of those roles either working, or not. I love the challenge in getting it right,” he said.

“When I’m recruiting, I have my General Manager hat on and if I get that right, it makes the Coaching role a lot easier and a lot more rewarding,”

“Being a Coach is a big responsibility and you really need to be good at a lot of things, not just really good at one thing. If I get my job right as a recruiter, then it becomes my role as Coach to ensure my players are trying their hardest every single time. If both of those roles are done well, I’m going to win a lot,”

“As a Coach, you really need to be a motivator, a problem solver, a parent, someone who can give tough love and make tough decisions but also really listen and care. That’s another reason why you need to keep expanding your own skill set and learning about yourself and your athletes.”

The fact that most of his former players keep in contact with him long after they leave the team is testament to the type of Coach Thornqvist strives to be.

“I think that’s something I’m most proud of. Almost all those players see their time at Florida as some of the best times in their lives. That’s a great feeling for me as a Coach because it means I’ve done my job well.”

Something Athlete Assessments’ Bo Hanson agrees with.

Roland Thornqvist

“When we create a strong identity and strong team, that is when we become successful,” he said. “Teams win when they get to know each other better.”

“Coaches should work on creating a connection and building rapport with their athletes. They need to become someone they can look up to who has credibility. We also need to devise new ways to create an environment that’s enjoyable, has social aspects, is friendly, exciting and really encourage our young athletes to want to be involved to create deeper commitment. Adapting our own behaviors can ultimately only lead to benefiting our team and our success,”

“We have worked with a lot of Championship winning Coaches and what sets them apart is that they all believe in the power of knowledge,”

Roland is a great example of a Coach who knows everything he needs to to win, yet he still seeks out new ways of learning and improving. He knows that 1 point can define the match so he seeks out anything that can help him and his team get that 1 point. He is an incredible role model of seeking excellence and always improving.”

And as on most winning teams, doing a great job as a Coach starts before the players hit the court.

“We like to see what type of person someone is before they make it as a recruit at Florida,” Coach Thornqvist said.

winning coaches

“Because our team culture is so important to us, we want to get it right. We are very limited in the time we can spend on recruiting so we talk to Coaches, we observe at training sessions and we observe in between matches in tournaments. This is when you get an insight into the person, not just the player. We also like to meet their parents because the apple never falls far from the tree,” he said.

“As far as what it takes to get noticed, athletes have to have a certain number of wins and already be an accomplished player but also someone with room for growth so they get a lot out of their four years with us,”

“Once we have our recruits, we want to lead by example and if I’ve done my job right, the Seniors will show the first-year students what’s expected of them and how to behave on the team. We work hard to create that environment, instill that team culture and we teach our athletes to take ownership and be responsible and accountable to themselves and each other. We want to enable them in a way that it comes from within and they can get the job done with or without a Coach on the court with them. Once again it comes back to the relationships we create and the Athlete Assessments DISC Profiles really helped us with this.”

About Coach Roland Thornqvist

winning coachesThere hasn’t been much the Florida women’s tennis team hasn’t accomplished. But Roland Thornqvist, who in 2016-17 entered his 16th year as head Coach of the Florida Gators, continues to find a way to raise the standard of success in Gainesville.

Thornqvist owns a remarkable 447-97 head coaching record in 20 years, including a 372-47 mark at Florida. His teams have qualified for the NCAA Tournament every year since he has been the head Coach of the Gators. In 2003, 2011 and again in 2012, the Gators women’s tennis team won the NCAA Division I National Championship.

winning coachesIndividually, Thornqvist has been honored as the ITA National Coach of the Year (2011), the ITA Southeast Region Coach of the Year (2010 & 2012) and the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year (2004, 2006, 2010, 2013 & 2016).

In the classroom, 11 of his Gator squads have earned ITA All-Academic Team honors by compiling a minimum cumulative team grade point average of 3.20 (on a 4.00 scale).

Thornqvist is married to Nan Thornqvist and they are the parents of Maclaine, who was born in November 1999, and Whitney, who was born in January 2001.

Where to from here?

Many of the winning Coaches we work with know that the most significant contributor to consistent, high-performance is not what most people assume.

The 2008 Olympic Study found that the most significant factor in achieving a medal winning or personal best performance was a strong Coach-athlete relationship, with high athlete self-awareness coming in second. Profiling is the fastest and most effective way to develop the people side of sports programs.

At Athlete Assessments, we believe in the Coach. We believe they are the most influential person in an athlete’s sporting life and have the greatest impact on their athletes’ performances.

We also know that it’s imperative for Coaches to develop an athlete as a person, effectively communicate, and to persistently look for new tools and techniques to improve performance.

It doesn’t matter how technically brilliant you are, unless you can get your message across and connect with your athletes, your coaching will be limited. Find out what great Coaches get right. 

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