USTA Women's BRG hosts virtual career panel on National Girls and Women in Sports Day
In a fitting celebration for National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Wednesday, nearly 100 women took part in a virtual roundtable entitled “Discovering Careers in Tennis,” sponsored by the USTA Women's Business Resource Group.
Four distinguished panelists, representing unique areas of the sport at all levels, came together to share their insights with current and aspiring female professionals: Jessica Battaglia, MS, ATC, Senior Manager of Operations, Programming and Events for USTA Player Development; Traci Green, in her 14th season as the Sheila Kelly Palandjian Endowed Head Coach of the Harvard University women's tennis team; Lori Giuggio, Director of Tennis at the Marietta Country Club in Georgia; and Kathy Rinaldi (pictured), the USTA’s head of women’s tennis and Team USA’s Billie Jean King Cup captain.
Moderated by the USTA’s Tracy Davies, Managing Director of Recreational Competition, the panelists held court for an hour where they looked back on how they got their start in tennis, including their best memories, mentors and advice received, and looked forward to the future, examining the place at the table that exists for women in the industry.
While Giuggio, Green and Rinaldi all possess decorated tennis résumés as players — from NCAA championships and All-American honors for Giuggio and Green, to a 17-year WTA career for Rinaldi — Battaglia grew up playing softball in her youth.
Nonetheless, she shared with attendees how she’s managed to make tennis her own after receiving degrees from the University of Florida and Barry University, getting her start at the combined ATP and WTA 1000 event in Miami in 2005. She credits that outside perspective with advancing her career and helping her to execute the USTA’s mission.
“In Player Development, we refer to individuals having tennis DNA, and when I first started with the USTA, I definitely didn’t have any tennis DNA,” she said with a laugh, “but I surrounded myself with people who were so accomplished. I think the biggest challenges for me were the learning curve… and earning that respect as an outsider with limited knowledge of tennis at the time.
“On the flip side of that, my outside perspective gave me the opportunity to challenge my colleagues which led to some innovation in every way. Asking the question ‘Why?’ a lot — not wanting to serve as a disruptor, but I gave everybody a reason to think about the purposes and mechanics… and the ways in which we delivered our programming.”
Despite different origins, the group agreed that being introduced to sports and athletics at a young age helped shape their worldview, and highlighted the importance of using their personal and organizational platforms to elevate and support the next generation of diverse women leaders from all walks of life.
“When I’m looking at women’s professional tennis and American women’s tennis, from Serena and Venus… to the young ones coming up, I think they inspire each other, and they really do get along and like each other,” Rinaldi said.
“As a coach, players don’t always go the professional route, but I love discussing with them the different routes in the tennis industry. It’s always great to pay it forward.”
Green added: “To share those stories to the younger generation… if we can take that information and help women become more visible, that’s huge,” while Giuggio agreed, lauding many mentors, both men and women, for helping her achieve a lifelong dream.
“I knew right when I started teaching tennis… that I wanted to run a club one day,” she said. “It took a lot of hard work, long hours on the tennis court and building relationships. Honesty and trust is very important. Here in Atlanta, there are not a lot of female tennis directors. To be in the position that I am at the club that I am, I am very blessed.”
In closing, all four panelists shared the sentiment that while they'd seen much progress for the better in regards to inclusion and equity in tennis over the years, there is still much more to strive for.
“When I first started with the USTA about 13 years ago, I was one of very few [female coaches]. I would go to events and their weren’t any women, but it has grown so much,” Rinaldi said. “At whatever level, whether it’s at the professional level, club level or collegiate level, it’s just so powerful to impact these young lives in a meaningful way.
“Do we have a long way to go? Yes we do, but we are definitely closing the gap and I’m happy to be a very small part of it with all the amazing women out there who are doing great work.”
National Girls and Women in Sports Day is an annual day of observance held during the first week of February to acknowledge the accomplishments of female athletes, recognize the influence of sports participation for women and girls, and honor the progress and continuing fight for equality for women in sports.