Arthur Kapetanakis | August 2, 2019
In this series, we highlight parents who make a positive impact on their children’s lives and tennis journeys, both on and off the court. In our first installment, we catch up with Summer Epps.
Summer and Luke Epps met at Oklahoma Christian University, where they both played varsity tennis. The Norman, Okla., couple is now part of a different team: a tennis-loving family of eight, as parents of five girls and one boy.
Gracie, the oldest at 14, won a USTA bronze ball in the 2019 Easter Bowl 16s singles event in March. She and Zoie, 13, train at the Tucker Tennis Academy in Tulsa, one of five USTA Regional Training Centers in the country. Sadie, 11, and 9-year-old twins Mollie and Macie play tennis and basketball, while 4-year-old Finn rounds out the crew.
Summer (pictured above, right, with family) spoke with USTA.com about her family’s tennis journey and how she and her husband support their kids in tennis and in life.ADVERTISEMENT
USTA.com: How did you get into tennis?
Summer Epps: My dad was a high school tennis coach from Ada, Okla. He introduced my sisters and me to tennis when I was really young. I played all through juniors, went to college at Oklahoma Christian and played. When I was there, I met my husband, who was also on the tennis team.
USTA.com: Do you still play?
Summer Epps: We hit with our kids, unless they’re winning (laughs). Then I usually quit because I don’t want to lose to them yet. We don’t play leagues or anything; we just feed balls to the kids mostly.
USTA.com: How did you and Luke introduce your children to tennis?
Summer Epps: Because my dad was a tennis coach, he was kind of like, "Let’s go out and do family tennis." So we would just go out on the court in the evening under the lights because they thought that was fun. And we brought red balls and orange balls, and we just started hitting with them. It was all fun and games.
We still do family tennis at least once or twice a month. That’s just family, under the lights, lots of laughter. It’s not serious; it’s just because I want them to play tennis for the rest of their lives.
USTA.com: You know better than most about the Red-Orange-Green-Yellow ball progression for youth tennis. What do you make of that innovation?
Summer Epps: So first, honestly, I was against it because I think I didn’t like someone telling me what to do with my kids. But as I watched the strokes develop, it has been amazing. It is so great to watch my 9-year-olds in these long 30-ball rallies on orange ball, green ball, which I know wouldn’t happen on the yellow ball. It’s really been the best thing for tennis, to teach kids the mechanics and to teach them how to play tennis without being so frustrated.
USTA.com: Do most of your children play multiple sports or are they focused mainly on tennis?
Summer Epps: My older two strictly play tennis. My third one, Sadie, she plays basketball and tennis. My twins, they play basketball and tennis.
Gracie and Zoie played soccer, and they played basketball and tee-ball. Since Gracie’s been 8 years old, it’s been tennis. She kind of made up her mind a little earlier than I would have liked.
USTA.com: What went into that decision to focus on tennis so early?
Summer Epps: She just loved it. She would watch it all day long on Tennis Channel. Any time the TV was on, it had to be on Tennis Channel. She just couldn’t get enough; it was like she was a little sponge and just wanted to know about tennis strategies and strokes, and I was not ready for that. I was just like, “You’re 8. We should really be playing every sport possible.” But she kind of put her blinders on and said, “This is what I’m gonna do.” So I said, “OK.”
Q&A continues below photo gallery.
USTA com: What role do you and your husband play in coaching them, versus having outside coaches? Do you guys have your own specific roles in supporting your children?
Summer Epps: Gracie and Zoie go to Tucker Tennis Academy in Tulsa. It’s about two hours from our house, and we just drive them back and forth, three to four times per week. They have primary coaches there, but I’m in constant contact, daily texts, asking what they’re working on. Because when they’re home, we are drilling them here, trying to reinforce what the coaches want from them.
Gracie works with Matias Marin, and Zoie works with Tomas Stillman.
We were their primary coaches for a long time, and then once we realized that they wanted to be more serious than maybe we were expecting, that’s when we hired a primary coach for one private lesson a week. And then we would listen and try to be on the same team as the coach and try to do the things that they were wanting them to do.
USTA.com: How did you decide on that academy?
Summer Epps: They bring in a lot of good players for the kids to hit with, and a lot of kids come from out of state, but it’s not a live-in academy or anything. A lot of kids will live with other families, or they will move to Tulsa themselves. Our other children have their own stuff going on in Norman, and they didn’t want to move. And we didn’t want them to live with somebody else; we still wanted to raise them.
USTA.com: What is your philosophy towards fitting tennis into life and balancing tennis with school and a social life?
Summer Epps: To us, school comes first. My kids have been homeschooled since Day 1, not because of tennis, but because there were so many kids so fast, I had a hard time getting them to school on time, honestly. I would like to say there was a better story, but that’s it.
They’re social, they go to church. The older two, their social is really a lot of the tournaments. You see the same kids basically over and over and over, year after year, and so they’ve built relationships, and that’s kind of where we’ve gone for that.
USTA.com: When it comes to winning and losing, how much do you focus on the results?
Summer Epps: My husband and I couldn’t care less if they win a match. That is the honest truth. We look at their effort, and we look at their attitude. And if we think either of those two are failing, win or lose the match, we will react. It’s not about a win or a loss to us. To us, it’s about being a good person at the end of the day. And I tell them, "Tennis, you won’t be playing every single day of your life, probably, when you’re 90. But you will hopefully be a good person." So that’s our philosophy for life.
USTA.com: I know it’s early, but have your older girls started to think about college tennis at all?
Summer Epps: The idea of college tennis is really exciting. We go to the OU matches here in Norman, and we watch the NCAAs on TV. It’s something I know that is on their radar that they would really like to do and go to the best school they possibly can.
USTA.com: How do you envision their careers progressing as they get closer to college and potentially beyond?
Summer Epps: I see Gracie going past college. She has a work ethic of a person well beyond her years. She’s very determined, very focused. The hardest working kid I’ve ever met. I see Zoie going to college and opening a bakery when she’s done. She plays tennis because she loves it and enjoys it, but then after college I think it will just be something to do for fun.
USTA.com: What would your message be to other tennis parents?
Summer Epps: I hope parents will let their kids play tennis for the love of the game and just teach them work ethic and responsibility and how to be OK in this world. That’s our biggest thing. We just see parents get so crazy at matches. It’s not worth it. It’s better to have a relationship with your kid at the end of the day. That’s how we think.