Tennis is a sport centered on the individual. But when Rusty Komori became Punahou School’s tennis coach back in 1994, he wanted to bring a team aspect to the game.
“Tennis is such an individual experience that whenever you can be a part of a team, it just makes the experience that much more meaningful,” he said.
That team experience turned into an unprecedented streak of 22 straight state championships - a national record for the longest streak in the history of the United States in all sports.
The streak would have continued had Komori not retired from coaching in 2015, but he admitted that he and nothing left to prove at the coaching level, and decided to spend the rest of his life facing new challenges.
“When I started coaching the boys Varsity team in ‘94, I felt that I’m gonna impact a lot of impressionable teenagers,” he said. “I wanted to have a plan in place to achieve whatever goal we were gonna set, mainly to win the state championships.
“But my goal, first and foremost, was to develop championship athletes of character first, and then great tennis players second. And having that framework in mind really helped me develop the players in terms of their character development, helping them become really good people. And coincidentally, it helps them unlock their results as well.”
Over the course of 22 years, Komori recalled each state title, pointing out how different each team was from the next. The first state championship he won was special, but so each each one after that.
“There was seniors that would graduate every year, so every season that we had was so special, so meaningful and every tennis player -- even alumni -- plays a part in the streak that we did,” he said. “And I feel very proud that someone from Hawaii has this record for 22 consecutive state championships. And I never thought I would be coaching 22 consecutive years as well.”
In fact, Komori didn’t plan on coaching at all.
A graduate of Creighton University, Komori wanted to become a lawyer. Teaching private lessons at Waialae Country Club back in the early 90s, Komori didn’t plan on making tennis his full-time job.
But one day, Komori noticed something about some of the students he mentored during his private lessons - the majority of which were attorneys.
Each of his students wore glasses with lenses that were at least three inches thick. When Komori asked his students at practice one day about their frames, they replied “We read all day. You’re gonna read all day (as an attorney).”
In an instant, Komori had a change of heart regarding his future endeavors.
“I don’t want to do read things that I have to read, I want to read things that I like to read,” he recalled. “So, I began developing top ranked tennis players. I get to wear tennis shorts, be in the nice weather in Hawaii everyday? This is a great situation.”
Komori picked up tennis “fairly late” as a freshman in high school. A former baseball and soccer playing up, Komori was drawn to tennis because of how in control he felt when he played.
“I really liked the aspect of tennis where if you really want to be good, then it’s on you. And if you lose, it’s all your fault, too,” he said.
When Komori retired from coaching back in 2015, he wasn’t burnt out from coaching. And no, he wasn’t tired of winning state titles. Instead, Komori wanted to be challenged in other aspects of his life outside of the tennis court.
That challenge turned into a book. And that book turned into his new calling.
“Beyond the Lines” is not just a book about his memories of coaching varsity tennis, it’s also a book about leadership.
“It’s about achieving and sustaining success,” Komori said. “It’s about improving your life and the lives of others, it’s about finding greatness.”
Komori isn’t coaching teenagers anymore, but he’s not necessarily done mentoring others. Instead of instructing people on the court, he uses his book as a tool to gather a bigger audience. The book itself is centered on the “Four P’s” of People, Purpose, Process and Performance.
“Once you focus on the people, you have empathy for them and they know that you have empathy for them as well. You can focus on the purpose; the goal; the mission. You can establish a clear vision for the mission,” Komori said. “And the third “P”, the process, is really important because if you have a great process in place, you can achieve whatever goal you want or at least put yourself in the best position to succeed. And once you have people, purpose and process, that equals the performance. That equals the results, that equals productivity.”
For more information on Komori and his book, visit www.rustykomori.com.
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