/Coach Kristen Eley A sit-down Q & A

Coach Kristen Eley A sit-down Q & A

Kristen Eley is a 26-year old tennis coach and professional at FITT Academy. She spoke to reporter Aallyah Wright recently about her passion for tennis and how it helped her achieve a successful coaching career in a male-dominated field. She joined a high school tennis team in seventh grade and was awarded a scholarship. She sustained a severe foot injury in her first year of high school. However, she was unable to keep her scholarship and her place on the team. Instead, she transferred to Itawamba Community College, where she helped the team win regionals and state championships. Editor’s Note: Interview was edited for length. Mississippi Today: Tell us a bit about yourself. From where are you originally? What brought you to tennis? Did you have a natural interest in tennis? Kristen Eley, age 8, or 9, I began playing tennis in Jackson. That’s where Coach Art (Arthur Jones III) and I met Coach Art. I played softball, basketball, and soccer. I also enjoyed being outdoors and playing outside. My father was an athlete, and he played professional football. Sports were a part of my family. After I started playing tennis, I could not put the racket down. Coach Art ignited my love of tennis. He was my first coach, and I was his first student. My entire family started playing tennis. My dad, my brother and mom became interested. After some time, my dad and brother gave up on the racket. For me, tennis has been a passion and necessity. This is the story of how I got started in tennis. Itawamba was my last game. I returned to Mississippi State to complete my degree. After realizing that it wasn’t working, Coach Art suggested I return to Mississippi State to finish my degree. I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t a good teacher. I began working with the children of the area. I found a passion for the sport and the satisfaction that students felt when they were able to hit a tennis ball over an artificial court. My students ranged in age from four to thirteen. Adults and teens are my students, but I am primarily a beginner tennis coach. I’d say that I teach between 30-40 students per week. Mississippi Today: How would you describe your leadership style? Kristen Eley says it’s hard work and you need to be attentive. It’s also fulfilling, I would add. It is definitely hard. It would be impossible for me to be here teaching if I didn’t love the sport. You can learn a lot from kids, I’m sure. They look up at you. I don’t consider myself an adult, but they do. So I had to be more alert because they are constantly watching my every move. It is satisfying when they can look up to you and accomplish something. Although coaching sounds fun because it’s fun, the leadership role can be very demanding. Mississippi Today: Women are not represented in sports across the board. You are one of the few women in Mississippi who have a dominant coaching role. What does it feel like to be able to beat the status quo? Kristen Eley says it’s very satisfying. It’s a wonderful thing that I love, and it wasn’t until recently that I saw it this way. It was just me playing, teaching and sharing my passion for tennis. That is all that I really care about. It is only once you can see the smile on a beginner’s face. This could be a beginner aged 40 or older. But you will see that their face lights up. Tennis is an individual sport. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. Teaching tennis is an art and a craft. That’s what I was thinking about when I began teaching it. My goal was the same when I made it a business. It was more like taking baby steps. It was not about the big picture, but how can I get my kids out of this place. When I took a step back and realized it doesn’t really happen, I realized that I was a unicorn. Mississippi Today: As a young girl, I can recall seeing Venus and Serena playing this sport. It was something I wasn’t exposed to, which is why I didn’t get involved. But representation is important. I only recall those two Black women as being on a national level. Kristen Eley – Serena, Venus and I were my idols. They looked just like me and were the best. It helped me grow the love that I already had. Coach Art was a great coach. He was passionate about my education and inspired me to be more passionate. I hope that others can experience the same passion. Tennis is my favorite sport and you have to do it yourself. It was a great experience to be able to understand and manage the sport and to translate that into my life. I would be shocked if someone said I would manage a clinic and run a business. It’s very humbling and I am grateful. Mississippi Today: What advice would you give to a young Black girl who wants to become a tennis pro but isn’t sure if she can make it in this industry? Kristen Eley says: Keep your passion, young Black girl. Follow your passion, and never lose sight of it. Nothing else matters if you are passionate about what you do. I was a tennis teacher for one year when I first started teaching. I didn’t charge anyone. I was teaching every day. I didn’t make a cent. I would feel exhausted and tired and then get up the next morning. It won’t feel like she’s actually working if the Black girl is passionate about tennis. This Q&A was published in The Inform[H]er.