For the last three years, I have worked as a USTA tennis professional. Not only do I travel the US playing tournaments, but I also teach group tennis lessons with my USTA certification. I began playing tennis at the age of 7 although I did not turn it into a professional career until I was 22.
Each morning I workout from 6 a.m. until 8 a.m., which is when I begin my first group lessons. I have three two-hour sessions throughout the day until 5 p.m. At this time, I teach a lesson with a private student. Some people believe that once a tennis professional attains his or her USTA certification the person is resigned to nothing but lessons. However, I still play on the professional circuit during the tennis season, although I rarely travel to other countries to play unless it is a major qualifying event.
I love my job and if asked, I would say I would have to rate my job satisfaction at a 9 out of 10. The only thing that would make my job better is if I would qualify for a Grand Slam event such as the U.S. Open or Australian Open.
Being a tennis professional does not compare to other callings in life such as teaching, nursing or other public servant jobs, although I do feel good about myself at the end of the day. We do many charity events, and I also teach a group of special needs students once per week. Although I may not have any heroic moments, I am able to sleep with a good conscience.
Being a professional athlete is a very unique career choice. It wasn’t something I dreamed about as a child when I played on my neighbors run down tennis court. I played for fun. I didn’t start thinking about tennis as a career until my late teen years when I started being recruited by colleges. Although I hate to say it, if I had things to do over I would have never gone to college. There were a few coaches that wanted to take me on as a full time student for the pro-am US circuit. There are times when I wished I would have gone that road. College could have waited for a few years.
One thing I have learned the hard way is that a professional athlete must take care of herself. Although I have been diligent to my career, there have been times that I have stayed out too late with my friends. For instance, one night I was playing in a tournament in Houston Texas where two of my girlfriends lived. The night before the first round of the tournament, I ended up staying out with them and drinking too much. The next day I lost to an unranked opponent, and I was favored to finish within the top five. This greatly hurt my chances at being invited to qualify at any of the larger professional tournaments that year. I was very upset, and my manager considered dropping me from his network of players.
I was always told that my college years would be the best years of my life. However, in college I had school work, tennis practice, summer tournaments, and coaching. I never had any time to socialize or interact with my friends. Now, when I’m out of season, I have all the time I could imagine and make a great living. Vacation is whenever I want it to be. I make my own schedule and normally average about four weeks per year of off-time. I normally take two weeks after the tournament circuit ends. On average, I make $800 per week from group lessons and another $400 from private lessons. This is great pay for someone my age in the particular part of the country I live in.
That is not to say that there aren’t some times I want to pull my hair out. Sometimes, I coach kids that just aren’t that skilled at the game. However, their parents want to know how long before their son or daughter will be able to go professional, or what schools their son or daughter should look at. Tennis is not about going professional or winning a free ride to college – it is about fun! When people begin looking to the sport as a financial means to satisfy their needs, I really think about dropping them from my coaching roles.
Being a woman and a professional athlete, you meet some strange people in your day to day life. The strangest thing happened to me when I was playing in a summer tournament while still in college. I was leaving the stadium in Barcelona Spain when a man approached me and started making small talk. He said he was a photographer and wanted to know if he could take my picture playing tennis. I told him I thought that would be fine until I realized he wanted to take my picture nude. Luckily, the man was not a dirt bag and understood when I declined. I had a good laugh about it later that night with my team.
Once I began playing regularly on the professional tournament circuit, money was always an issue. I had to think about paying for my flight, entry fee, hotel rooms, and many other things that went along with traveling throughout the US. Although I was sponsored by a few different equipment companies, this did not allow me much money otherwise. The professional winnings were just enough to get you from one tournament to the other, and this began to weigh very heavily on my mind. This lead me to seek out my USTA certification.
There are no particular education requirements for USTA certification, although there is a very long and hard written test. For my friends that talk about becoming certified, I say go for it. You have to study the USTA certification book but the physical portion of certification is pretty easy if you know what you are doing. Hopefully, within the next few years I plan to start my own tennis academy. If I could have it my way, I would be running an academy that coaches highly skilled up and coming players for the USTA amateur circuit while employing other coaches to teach intermediate and beginning level players. That would be my dream career.