To celebrate Women’s History Month in March and the impact that women in tennis have made and continue to make by acting as strong female role models, we’re catching up with players of all ages and abilities throughout the month to talk about their experience.
This week’s Q&A is with Jeri Ingram, who is the founder of the Metropolitan Tennis and Education Group and currently serves as Vice President on the USTA Mid-Atlantic Board of Directors. Jeri started playing tennis in a public park with her father when she was 9 years old and went on to become an All-ACC player at the University of Maryland and spent eight years on the WTA Tour.
Did you look up to any tennis players when you were learning?
I initially looked up to my father and the people he played tennis with in the parks as well as the players he played against in local tournaments. As time went by I always looked up to my tennis coaches and my fitness coaches that worked with me every day. Every single coach had something to offer and I was a “sponge” for learning all that I could. Other individuals that I looked up to were Arthur Ashe, Lori McNeil, Zina Garrison, Katrina Adams, and Rodney Harmon.
Do you think having a role model helped you with your game?
Yes, I know these role models helped my game. They were, and still are, the voices that I would hear in my daily life as I made decisions on and off the tennis court. My father always made sure he kept me around healthy people and I was always confident that these people were moving me forward so I wanted to ensure that I was using their advice.
Thinking back to when you started in tennis, did you believe you could become a professional player and have a career in tennis?
When I began tennis I did not think about becoming a professional. I mostly thought of becoming a better tennis player every day and having a better result in the next tournament each time. Once I was a sophomore in high school I began to believe I could become a professional tennis player. Once I became a senior in high school I began to know that was what I should work for in my life.
I definitely did not know I would have a full career in tennis until I retired from the WTA Tour and finished college. I knew then that I wanted to combine my life experience with my business expertise to grow the game of tennis, effect change in various communities, and influence high performance outcomes.
As a mom with two daughters who both play tennis, do you think having strong female role models are important to their tennis game? Why?
Yes, I think having strong role models are important because it perpetuates the “I can do this too!” attitude and at times, it can facilitate easier communication between player and coach when it is female to female. Thankfully, tennis is a sport that has strong role models at every turn.
As a former pro player, current coach, and mom how does it feel that some kids may look up to you as their role model?
As I reflect on all of those roles, I feel as though it is an awesome responsibility to be an excellent role model to my own children, other young tennis players, all children and adults as well. Having traveled the athletic path from learning on my neighborhood courts to the pros, it is important to share how that journey has shaped me and set an example to inspire others to continue to excel in their own game and life.
What would you tell a girl who dreams of being a professional tennis player?
I would tell her a number of things:
I tell a girl who dreams of being a professional tennis player to first dream of being the best you that you can be. Whether it is on the tennis court, off the tennis court, in the classroom or beyond.
I tell her to work your hardest every day to be better than you were yesterday. The standard you set for yourself is the standard you will become.
Being a professional athlete/tennis player is a different path and if you want to be different then you have to “be different.”
I tell her to get up in the morning and do the best you can then go to sleep and get back up in the morning and do it all over again.
What is the most satisfying part of being a professional tennis player/coach?
The most satisfying part of being a professional tennis player when I was playing tennis was to work hard at getting it right on the court, to see the world while doing it, and the relationships that I made that have lasted a lifetime.
The two most satisfying parts of being a professional tennis player/coach now is one, that I have a platform of experience to speak from to mentor, motivate, inspire, and change the lives of young players; and two, I have experience to initiate growth, change, and innovative initiatives as well.
What has it been like seeing your daughters pursue tennis?
(Laughs) This may be the most satisfying and difficult aspect of my tennis career to date. I want the best for them, so as a parent that is emotional. As a coach, you know that the tough lessons are often the best lessons. But, at the end of the day I know that the life lessons and experiences that tennis will afford them will make them better human beings with the game in their lives than without.
To continue advancing the role women have in sports, USTA Mid-Atlantic is building a dynamic community of women who will have a strong, positive, collective impact on communities across the region. Led by Jeri Ingram, the Women’s Giving Circle brings together women who share common philanthropic goals and want to become more involved philanthropically in tennis. To learn more about how to join the giving circle and be a leader in the tennis community, please contact Helen Li at firstname.lastname@example.org.