Q&A with Workeneh Babu, Adult Player
In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting members of our community and sharing their unique perspectives on the importance of recognizing Black History Month, diversity in tennis, and a reflection on their personal tennis stories.
Meet Workeneh Babu. He is a longtime USTA NorCal adult leagues and tournament player. While Babu originally focused his attention on competitive ping pong, which is how he met his wife in Ethiopia, he started playing tennis after moving to the US and seeing his wife and a friend playing for fun. He has now been playing since the 90s and has passed on his love of the sport to his three children. Tennis is an integral part of both Babu's life, as well as his whole family's, and they were even recognized as the USTA NorCal Family of the Year in the early 2000s.
Workeneh Babu Q&A
Q: Before you moved to the US, it sounds like you focused on ping pong and soccer. How did you make the transition to tennis?
A: When I first moved to the US from Ethiopia, I wanted to play more ping pong but it was hard to find places to play. I knew I wanted to stay active, so I played on a soccer team with some friends. I wasn’t the best player, but I was athletic and enjoyed competing.
The hand-eye coordination of ping pong combined with the footwork needed for soccer helped me transition into tennis. I ended up teaching myself how to play by watching professional players on TV. I like to copy Federer these days.
Q: Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month in general, as well as in tennis?
A: It is important to celebrate Black History Month because although some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go regarding representation. A person picking up a sport for the first time, whether they are younger or older, gravitates toward athletes they can relate to and who look like them. It brings hope to us all when we see more African American players breaking through in the professional world because we know the path hasn’t always been easy on or off the court. The next generation of players are currently being inspired by who they see and who came before them, and this is only possible through the celebration of Black history.
Q: In your opinion, how can we better bring together people of different identities and cultures through tennis?
A: People of different cultures and backgrounds like a variety of sports. In a lot of cases, tennis is not at the top of those lists. It’d be great if there were more free, accessible opportunities for players to try programs that offer modified versions of multiple sports. This way they can be exposed to different kinds of sports to see what they like. Kids play a big part in bringing home the love of a sport to a family, so having more family offerings where parents and kids can learn and play together could be beneficial. It can be hard for parents to figure out where to start with sports, so having consistent programs available for families through schools and parks would be helpful.
Q: Are there any lessons you have learned as a longtime player that you apply to life?
A: I live by treating people how you want to be treated and whatever you give is what you get (on and off the court). I learned how to communicate and be mentally tough on the court and that transferred over into work. Applying this has allowed me to meet so many great people that have become lifelong friends, so I am grateful for tennis. I also believe in being yourself with no ego and having fun in every aspect of life.
Q: You have been a longtime player in the parks throughout the East Bay. What do you hope to inspire in the next generation of tennis players?
A: I play tennis for fun, and it always makes me laugh when spectators ask me my age (my tennis age is 26 by the way). I usually get this question because of how I run down drop shots that people my age may or may not get to. I hope to inspire that kind of determination in the next generation so they know they too can be healthy and compete at any age and level. I’ve also learned discipline through all of the sports I’ve ever played, and I hope that kind of discipline and love for the game rubs off on anyone I play with or against.
Q: Why did you want to pass down your love of tennis to your children and what lessons does the sport help teach in life in general?
A: Based on the experiences I had playing tennis, and sports in general, I knew I wanted to introduce my kids to tennis. When taking them to tournaments when they were younger, my wife and I witnessed a lot of parents who were only focused on their kids winning. Winning and losing happen on the court, but it also happens in real life so tennis has a way of teaching you how to be prepared. As long as our kids gave it 100% and enjoyed the game, we were happy. Luckily, they enjoyed tennis so we kept going with it. Tennis is hard work mentally and physically and being student-athletes also helped them learn discipline that they were able to apply to their lives.
Q: Are there any tennis accomplishments over your career that you are particularly proud of?
A: The accomplishment I am most proud of would be raising three amazing kids who were able to play college tennis, but more importantly are good people, which means the world to me. None of this would have been possible without my wife, who supported us all through the game we love.
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