NextUp Live

Former USTA Leader Discusses the Role of Tennis In Youth Sports

By Melissa Wickes
October 18, 2021
3 min

Welcome to the latest episode of NextUp Live!

This new interview series from LeagueApps and our NextUp community, features inspiring stories from people, news, and happenings around the youth sports industry.

Today, I am excited to talk with Katrina Adams, whose Hall of Fame list of accomplishments includes being the youngest and first Black person to become CEO, chairman, and president of the United States Tennis Association.

(Click here if you can’t play the video above.)

The Role of Tennis In Youth Sports

Katrina’s youth sports experience began with tennis (of course) in her hometown of Chicago. We talked about how sports and that foundation created her pursuits on and off the court.

I am very lucky that tennis found me and that I found it. The skills I learned through the sport of tennis have helped me be resilient throughout my entire life and it grew my sself-esteem, taught me time management, and built my confidence. In life, you have to understand tactics and strategy and, with tennis, you learn how to rework those things on the court. It taught me how to do that from the age of six.

She is not only the former head of USTA, she’s the author of Own the Arena: Getting Ahead, Making a Difference, and Succeeding as the Only One, which focuses on confidence-building and leadership. She says her inspiration and approach to writing were less about her and more about the people in her life.

The book was inspired by others who needed guidance to be able to overcome or avoid certain things in their lives. In the book, I talk about how to “own your arena,” whether that’s your office or your home or the playground and I do it from the perspective of 12 winning matchpoints that are all “own your” something. My three favorite are own your courage, own your voice, and own your identity.

One of the things we hear over and over again from youth sports organizers is that they work with kids to build an entire human, not just one who can play sports. Katrina talks about the same importance and provides some advice on what being a great leader means, no matter if you played youth sports or not.

The most important thing as a leader is that you’re a great listener. This applies to every human being—too often we listen to respond and not to listen to what the other person is really saying. When you’re working with kids who play sports, but also need an education and need to stay both phsically and mentally healthy, it’s your job to hear what they’re saying.

Last week, we talked to Rashaan Hornsby whose Camden New Jersey youth sports program introduced tennis to young girls through a new summer program in 2021. Katrina talks about how important these local initiatives are to growing the sport and creating opportunities for girls who otherwise might not have access to them.

It’s so important for these kids to have a place to go, that they have the opportunity to build friends and learn camaraderie. It’s great for them to see the progression of their friends because it’s motivating for all. These organizations are incredible because it teaches them that they can be successful at something. Not everyone will be a professional athlete, but it gives them something to put on their applications for high school and/or college. We need to relay these kinds of messages so they understand the commitment is more important as being able to play well.

Katrina and I both came up through individual sports. These tend to have spotlights shown on them during marquee global events such as the Olympics and U.S. Open. This year’s Open featured an incredible women’s final with two inspiring teenagers. She talks about what that means and how it started with Venus and Serena Williams 25 (!!!) years ago. 

If you can see it, you can do it—and so many young girls saw these incredible young Black women in the finals and thought, “I can do that, too!” Emma and Leylah are great role models for today’s youth. 

As always, our closing question for every episode is “What’s Next Up?” We asked Katrina, what’s next up for her—and her ambition won’t surprise you.

I’m using my book as my platform to do speaking engagements. I’m building my career on television as a broadcaster. And I’m focused on our 50th anniversary—and we do take donations! 

Donate to HJTEP

If you’d like to donate to the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education program, you can do so by visiting their website.

If you’d like to know more about Katrina and the good she’s doing in the world of youth sports through tennis, buy her book, “Own Your Arena.” Not only can you learn more about her and her philosophy, you can follow her 12 winning matchpoints and build your own courage, voice, and identity.

And be sure to subscribe to the LeaugeApps YouTube channel, where you will see a new episode of NextUp Live every week.