USTA: Catching Up With New USTA President Katrina Adams
Katrina Adams took on the role of chairman, CEO and president of the U.S. Tennis Association in January. With her ascendancy, she becomes the fourth woman to head the organization, but she is first in a number of other important categories. Adams is the first African-American to lead the USTA in the organization’s 134-year history. She’s also the first former professional athlete to have the job. And, at age 46, she’s the youngest person in the role.
Adams played on the pro tour from 1984 to 1999, reaching No. 8 in the world in doubles and No. 67 in singles, and winning 21 WTA doubles titles. She has also served on the WTA board of directors as a player representative and won the WTA’s Player Service Award twice.
For the past nine years, Adams has been the executive director of the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program in New York City, which each year serves more than 1,000 inner-city kids, who are taught tennis and receive tutoring for school, along with life skills. She’s also been an analyst for the Tennis Channel since 2003, and is a contributor on CBS Sports Network’s first all-female sports show, “We Need to Talk.” In addition, Adams, who lives in White Plains, N.Y., and Lakewood Ranch, Fla., has contributed to Tennis magazine and tennis.com. This month, she is scheduled to speak at the TIA Tennis Summit March 17-18 in Indian Wells, Calif.
We recently caught up with Adams as she was preparing to address the USTA Leadership Meeting in California in January — her first gathering as president and where she reveals to staff and USTA section leadership her priorities for her two-year term.
TI: What are your top goals as USTA president?
Adams: My No. 1 goal is to execute the mission of the USTA, which is to “promote and develop the growth of tennis” in America. With that, of course, comes continuing to lead the charge with the Youth Imperative and getting more kids on the courts. We’ll continue to focus on that.
In addition, one of my main goals to add to those numbers is to be more inclusive of the Hispanic community, a population we haven’t penetrated well. There are a lot of opportunities there — to attract entire families to the sport, to be all-inclusive, to try to get the community more active and involved in tennis, like they are in other sports.
We also want to go after the recreational high school player. We have a lot of no-cut teams in the U.S., and it’s great to have all these youngsters involved in tennis for the high school season. But after that, they’re probably playing other sports, or no sports at all. We need to find a way to better engage them in playing tennis beyond the high school season — we want to drive them to programs in nearby parks, CTAs and facilities and make it a fun experience for them. It’s not necessarily to get them on a competitive play track, but on a recreational play track — to make them year-round frequent players.
TI: What are some of the top challenges you feel you’ll face in your term?
Adams: It’s about making sure we have “buy-in” from all constituents in this industry. It’s also about communication, and really believing there’s an opportunity for growth and making sure there are ways for that to happen.
We need to make sure all constituents understand that we as the USTA are here to help them, and not to hurt them. For me, it’s about having a positive attitude and trying to have a unified voice within the sport.
TI: How can the tennis industry help you achieve your goals?
Adams: Marketing is a huge key. Any time we’re trying to attract a new group, or just players in general, it’s how we as a team can market the sport as a whole. We need to do a much better job of marketing the sport overall, the value of the sport, telling the full story of the sport, how beneficial tennis is for people, how it leads to healthy lifestyles for all ages, the camaraderie and social aspects of tennis.
It’s also about collaboration and partnerships, and about listening. It’s about embracing what the needs are of people, not just of tennis.
TI: What do you feel are your strengths?
Adams: I think I walk around with a positive attitude at all times and there’s nothing that I can’t succeed at. It’s all about preparation, being alert, communicating, and being a good listener. If I can embrace the good, bad and ugly of what people experience and be able to articulate that, I think that’s a great strength of mine.
TI: And how about weaknesses?
Adams: I would say my weakness is my patience. I’m a competitor. I don’t like losing. I don’t take no very easily. I always feel there’s a way to turn a negative into a positive, recognizing and realizing that I’m not going to be able to turn everything around that I want, but as long as we can start going in the right direction, that’s all that I ask for. I have to realize there are differences in our approaches.
As a player, I’m a serve-and-volleyer, and that’s my personality, and there’s a reason why I’m a serve-and-volleyer: I like to get in there and get things done.
TI: How important is the Lake Nona project?
Adams: What a huge opportunity. These are very exciting times. We’re able to build a home for American tennis. It’s not about player development; it’s a home to bring thousands of all ages together. It’s truly inclusive and embraces who we are. It’s a huge asset as to how we’re pushing the mission forward.
There are always going to be people who will gripe, but it’s hard to see how people don’t see this as a positive. There are a lot of good things that will come out of this project that can only be good in the long run.
TI: Talk about the significance of being the first African-American USTA president.
Adams: I came up through the ranks because of my passion, leadership abilities and belief that I could make a difference. I was fortunate to be appointed USTA first vice president and now president. And that’s because of my skills and talents and how I relate to people. I’m here in spite of my differences.
But it’s helping us embrace those differences. We embrace diversity and have done a really good job with that. But we have to do the same with our own volunteer community with people getting involved and feeling they can make a difference. Hopefully we can open the door for others of color within this organization.
TI: As a former pro player, how can we get the pro tours and pro players to help promote tennis at the grassroots?
Adams: It’s a goal of mine to get them more involved. But when you’re in the pros, you’re thinking about going out and doing the best you can in your game, not in the organization of the game. But now, I can see, the USTA really helped me. You start to understand the importance of the organization. I’d like to communicate with my peers and colleagues, and pay it forward and help assist the next generation of players.
In all fairness to [pro players], I think they do a really good job of [reaching the grassroots], based on the time that they have. They’re doing clinics all the time; there’s always some kind of community activity they’re involved in. And many have their own foundations.
Going back to how this industry can help grow tennis, within pro players’ contracts with manufacturers, there’s a way to help the recreational game and getting more players into the game. It’s about getting everyone involved and finding opportunities to promote the game at every level. We need to rely on our partners.
TI: From a USTA perspective, talk about the role of teaching pros in growing the game, and how the USTA is working with teaching pros.
Adams: We partner with both the USPTA and PTR, and do a lot with their conventions. We need to continue to focus on educating our coaches. And we need to embrace our teaching professionals as being professionals. Then we can have a huge impact on the growth of tennis.
TI: What’s going on with competitive junior tennis?
Adams: We’ve made some major changes to the structure. We’ll continue to monitor it as it evolves. Dealing with our national players is no easy task. You need to be patient, otherwise mistakes may become irreparable.
The structure of the USTA, the system, doesn’t allow us to make changes quickly. There’s a whole process that we have to go through within our bylaws and we can’t change that overnight. We do it at the pace that we’re capable of, and we have to do our due diligence to find out what people think will work.
TI: How do you get more adults into the game?
Adams: One of the things that concerns me is there are a lot of older players leaving the game because they can’t cover the court like they used to. I’m hoping they realize that shorter courts and red, orange and green balls are for them, too. I’m hoping we can get that message out, because it will help this industry.
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