In their own words: Tracy Lawson on Women's History Month
As we celebrate Women’s History Month throughout March, we look toward leaders in tennis who are working to spread this sport far and wide. This month, you'll meet leaders who are telling their first-person stories and who recognize the influences family, friends, teachers and coaches have had on the direction their lives and careers have taken—and how that direction is positively impacting the newest generations. Today, meet Tracy Lawson.
I grew up in a sports family (my dad played pro basketball in the ABA; mom played tennis at Arizona State and nationally; my brothers played pro basketball and baseball; and my sister played tennis at Iowa State). I played USTA national level junior tennis and Division I college tennis. After college, I traded the tennis court for a court of law and settled into a career as a litigation paralegal. Later, I had three children and became a stay-at-home mom.
Given my sports background, it was only natural that when my kids were old enough, I'd teach them to play. It was a fun way to spend time together. Soon, my oldest son was begging to play every day, so we put him and his older sister in lessons at the local club. The youngest followed a few years later.
One day, I took the kids to their group lesson but an instructor had called in sick. The head pro asked me to help—and that was the start of a new career for me. I've now been teaching tennis for 20 years (I’m USPTA-certified and Safe Play approved), with my passion being to give the youngest players the best start they can have.
As my kids started playing more and traveling to compete, I began volunteering for the USTA, first at the local level in the Phoenix area (we live in Tempe, Ariz.), then for the Southwest Section, then on national committees. Currently, as a volunteer, I’m the chair of the USTA National Junior Competition Committee, chair of the Southwest Section Coaches Commission and chair of the section’s Junior Competition Committee. I also run 25 to 30 USTA tournaments a year of varying levels. (Turns out running tournaments is also teaching in some ways, so I love that.) Additionally, I am lead faculty for USTA Early Development Camps (10U orange and green ball camps with competition) for the Southwest Section. It’s all been so much fun. I’ve met my closest friends through tennis.
My actual “work” and my volunteering all sort of melt together. From 2016 to 2022, I co-directed a junior developmental tennis academy that, until we lost access to courts, had 350 players, ages 5-18, of all developmental levels and levels of play. That was a dream job. I'd love to be able to contribute to the growth of tennis and the growth of children again in that way.
Every workshop and conference I attend reshapes what I do in some way. I am constantly learning and trying to do better for the kids. However, the USTA workshops and conferences that I have been lucky to be a part of have contributed the most: the USTA Junior Competition Summit; the Early Development Camp trainings and summits; the Player Development workshops; and, most recently, the 2023 USTA Annual Meeting and Conference.
Listening to USTA President Brian Hainline at the Annual Meeting talk about the “value of sport” for all children changed my outlook on what I do and why I do it. He helped me see that the value in sport is about the physical and mental health and wellness of the players and that value should be accessible to EVERYONE. Ultimately, it is not about winning, it is not even about how well the kids played, it is about the experience of the sport, the belonging of the sport, the confidence gained, the camaraderie, the life skills. Tennis is a microcosm of life. The value it brings to life and to a community transcends the sport itself. President Hainline, and the USTA Annual Meeting, helped bring that into sharp focus for me.
Many coaches have mentored or inspired me. I'm grateful to have had amazing coaches, such as Johnny Parkes, Geoff Russell and Alex Mouquin, show me how to do better for kids and to have learned from them. But it was Dr. Anne Pankhurst from England who really changed my life.
In 2007, I attended a USTA coaches' workshop in Carson, Calif., at the invitation of my section. Anne introduced the conference to what was possible for 10U players on a smaller court, with an orange ball. This was early days in the U.S. for the 10U progression. I had been teaching young children for a few years with the yellow ball and could see the challenges and frustrations they had with the space and the speed of the ball. I knew they needed something different but didn't know what. I left that conference inspired to change the experience for the kids; bought the balls and some painters' tape to create the smaller court; and from that weekend on, taught children in a way that was most conducive for their learning. For 10 years or so after that conference, Anne mentored a group of us on how to teach young children the right skills the first time to give them options as they grow up and to make it more fun.
I am eternally grateful to Anne. She showed me a better way to teach children, in developmentally appropriate ways, to make tennis easier to learn and more fun for kids. She changed how I thought about teaching young children and how important it was (for the kids' experience) to do it right. As a result, I think she improved the tennis experience for a lot of kids because of what she taught me.
I've experienced that value of tennis myself, in my own family and community, and I’m very grateful for that. To incorporate that into my teaching philosophy can help me bring it to the families of the kids I teach.
Celebrating women and their contributions to the world of tennis can inspire young girls and women to live their dreams and inspire them to help other women fulfill theirs. Girls need to see themselves in the people who are succeeding and leading in areas that interest them. They need to see it is possible for them.
I am closer to my children because of tennis. Honestly, what teenager wants to spend the weekend with their mother? But my children HAD to spend time with me as I drove them to tournaments or flew with them to tournaments. We made incredible memories that we never would have had otherwise. Every tournament we went to, regardless of how old they were, regardless of whether they won or lost, we would always take a day and do something interesting in that city or town. There were so many fun times that helped form our family memories.
Tennis really is my family's passion and history. Starting with my grandmother playing as a teen in the Virgin Islands, who taught my mom (who was highly ranked and played Forest Hills before the advent of pro tennis), to me and my siblings, now to my children and soon to my granddaughter. For some of us, it has been our livelihood, our vocation. For some it provided college scholarships. For all of us, it has been what binds us together.
[Editor’s note: Tracy’s many honors include the USTA Phoenix District Ambassador to Tennis Award, 2019; USTA Southwest Family of the Year, 2013 and 2022; USTA Southwest Community Tennis Volunteer of the Year, 2013 and 2014; USPTA 2019 Southwest Division Star Award; USPTA 2020 Southwest Division Industry Excellence Award; USPTA 2022 Southwest Division Proud Award; Racquet Sports Industry Magazine's 2020 Junior Champion Award; America's Top Coach Contest by Tennis Channel in 2021, Top 50.]