Halfway through a comment of praise for his team after a tough match, Jeff Kader ’05 is interrupted by a small voice asking, “Dad, can I have a Gatorade?” Jeff smiles softly at his son, nods his head, looks back and asks, “You can edit that out, right?”
Most people know Kader from his current role as the head coach of the William and Mary men’s tennis team. What most don’t know is that he himself was not only a member of the Tribe, but also an athlete of the same program that he now coaches.
During his time at the College, Kader was named four-time All-Colonial Athletic Association selection in singles play, winner of the Blue-Gray Classic Sportsmanship Award in 2005 and named the CAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Performer for his play in the 2005 conference championship — a first in program history — when he defeated his Virginia Commonwealth opponent at the No. 1 spot.
Kader says that the experience of playing an individual sport for a team is a unique one. Being able to play for something greater than himself is part of what made him so fond of the Tribe.
“I mean, I love it. I loved everything about it,” Kader said. “The team at that time was really what got me interested in coming here. They were such a tight-knit group … it was definitely a family atmosphere. So, coming here and playing, playing with them, was just an incredible experience. … But that was the greatest four years of my life, of my tennis career.”
The decision to major in kinesiology was an easy one for Kader. Figuring that he would end up in a sports-related field post-grad, it made sense for him to pursue a degree in something he had always been passionate about.
“I’ve always loved sports, so in choosing a major, it was one of those I knew that I could apply to me, as a player, at the time,” Kader said.
Fresh out of college, Kader jumped head first into the world of coaching as an assistant men’s tennis coach at North Carolina State from 2006-10. He then moved on to his first head coaching position at Texas-San Antonio, where he led the team to success from 2010-15.
“And it just so happened that I was very fortunate with kind of my path into college coaching,” Kader said. “I got into it right away, but it was at that time, kind of after that first year, that I said, ‘I’m pretty sure this is what I want to do for my career.’ … But then as far as coaching, you know, really after one year in it, that was when I knew that this is what I needed to be doing.”
After spending 10 years away from Williamsburg, Kader returned to the College to take over for Peter Daub as the 17th head coach of the Tribe men’s tennis program.
Kader says that his relationship with Daub was a positive one. It helped him develop his own coaching philosophy: You can’t coach each player the exact same way.
“I have a very good relationship with him,” Kader said. “I still call him to this day and ask for coaching advice from him, and it is really helpful that, obviously, he was the coach here. He understands the policies and procedures and kind of what goes into it. So that’s very helpful for me to have him for a mentor, as well.”
Part of Kader’s decision to return to the College as a coach came from the values that the institution instills in its student-athletes. He believes that being a part of the Tribe really sets the athletes up for success and helps them grow as people; he gives a lot of credit to the athletics department for who he is today.
“I firmly believe in really everything that the school stands for,” Kader said. “It had just such a great impact on my life … And all of the athletes really live by [the College’s values], and I really just believed in the values that the athletic department has. And those are the type of athletes that I want to be around; that’s what I want on my team. So, I think it was just a perfect fit for me.
This season, Kader’s third as head coach, the Tribe went 2-0 in conference play, earning them the No. 1 seed spot in the 2018 conference championship. Kader says that the team’s success and high ranking going into the tournament is not going to affect their mindset or change how they prepare for the tournament.
“We’re going to prepare for every single match the exact same way that we have all year,” Kader said. “That’s kind of how we approach it; just keep little goals when we’re out there in practice. We’re not going to do anything different. And go out there and kind of take care of your court, and if you do that, you’re going to put yourself in a position to win.”
Kader led the Tribe all the way to the championship round after complete sweeps of the opposing teams leading up to the final day, only falling to repeat champions North Carolina-Wilmington.
Outside of the world of tennis, Kader loves spending time with his wife, Morgan, and their two sons, Harrison and Davis. Kader says that he and his family spend a lot of time in Colonial Williamsburg because it’s such a family friendly area.
“I love Williamsburg more now probably than when I was here,” Kader said. “We just walk around. We take the kids down there — they either ride their scooters or ride their bikes, you know … get out and enjoy Williamsburg itself.”
Sometimes, Harrison and Davis even get a trip to the McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center or the Millie West Tennis Facility on game days. These visits are a fun experience for everyone involved, but especially for the boys.
“They like it simply because, not even for the tennis or for anything, they just like going to where I work,” Kader said. “They’re literally there because they get to go into my office. And they turn on the TV, and they say, ‘Yeah, I’m at dad’s work.’ So [I’m] trying to get them a little more involved in the actual tennis side, but they very much just enjoy going to dad’s work. And the guys on our team are awesome with them, you know. I think that’s the highlight of my kids’ day, when the guys on the team will come and give them a high five or something like that. They really enjoy that.”
While there are too many rewarding moments for him to recount, Kader genuinely enjoys being a part of his players’ lives as they go through their time at the College.
“It’s going to sound cheesy, but it really is seeing the growth of the guys from their freshman year to their senior year, and then knowing that you’ve at least had some part of helping them really mature as a person,” Kader said. “Since I’ve been here, every single player that’s been here is incredibly driven. They’re incredibly motivated, they’re incredibly smart. They all come in here knowing what it is they want to do, so I really feel like half the time I’m just kind of out there monitoring.”
In addition to all the fulfillment and delight Kader gets from coaching, he also gets excited about the little things involved with Tribe Athletics.
“We switched to Under Armour, so we have some cool gear,” Kader said. “I guess that would be a good perk as well.”
At the end of the day, the fact that Kader has been exactly where his players are makes him the coach he is now. Having graduated from the same college and played for the same team in the same program, Kader and assistant coach Dom Pagon ’09 serve as a constant reminder that it is possible to get through each day, each practice and each season while constantly improving both on and off the court.
“There isn’t a whole lot that they can throw at us where we can’t come back and say, ‘We know exactly what you’re talking about,’” Kader said. “It might be different in how it’s going about, but what is expected of you and how you are meant to handle things between the academics, the athletics, whatever it may be, we went through that exact same thing.”
Backed by a history of hard work and success, Kader has taken the Tribe further than it has gone in years, with nothing but opportunity on the horizon.