You’re in the Room for a Reason with Tennis Trailblazer – Former Pro Player and Tennis Executive – Katrina Adams

InStyle magazine naming her a BadAss Woman is probably the most accurate description of Kat Adams that I’ve ever heard. She’s been influencing and improving the game of tennis since she was six years old, playing on Chicago’s Southside. She’s always been an inspiration to me from our time at Northwestern University; her humility, determination, and understanding of who she is and the power she has on and off the court.

JS: One thing I find interesting about athletes is that you guys understand from a young age that there is a time limit on that thing that you have a gift for. And you have made some interesting changes that not all athletes do. Right? Of course, coaching and commentating, I think are always the obvious steps from the outside looking in. But moving into the C suite, not only in sports, but in the private sector is something that a lot of folks in your position never would have done. What is the thing that keeps you discovering and knowing what the next right things are? Is it that same feeling that you got when you were young? And picking up the tennis racquet? Is that the same feeling that guides you forward?

KA: Absolutely, I think it’s something that’s at the core of who you are. It’s the passion that is brewing inside of you to want to do whatever that next level is. For me staying in the sport of tennis, it’s in my DNA. It’s who I am. It’s what I have been raised to do. It’s the relationships that I built throughout my career from a junior all the way up to today. It’s being in those boardrooms and understanding the sport from a global perspective, not just from a national perspective, and being able to be that voice and the decision maker as to where we go from here. Our sport is an amazing sport. It’s a sport for a lifetime. It’s really from grassroots to the professional, to the US Open. We want American US Open champions. And so when I had the opportunity to be at the helm and making those decisions, not from the top down, but from the bottom up. The bigger the pool is from grassroots and you can get these players in a pipeline, the better chance you have of having a greater pool of champions at the top. And that’s something that we’ve done a great job at, if you look at the numbers and those that are ranked in the ATP tour and the WTA Tour, in the last in this year, it didn’t just start yesterday, they started years ago with a plan. And those players have progressed and are doing extremely well. So for me, being that decision maker for the growth and development of tennis was huge. And then of course, you had your staff that was doing all the other great things as far as making sure that the US Open was what it was, so that we could fund these programs and to get more kids into our sports. So that’s something that I think, inside me was brewing, to be that person, to be that leader. Because I’ve lived it, I’m the poster child of who the USTA was, or is when I was in that position. And it’s something that, you know, I will definitely keep close to my chest.

JS: One of the things that I loved in your book was how you talked about and illustrated that part so clearly, because I think a lot of times we look at that story with Serena and Venus in particular, but also Naomi and Coco and the other young Black women who have come up in the sports in a similar way. But one of the things I thought that was particularly poignant about the point you were making is that even though they are superstars, and you got to watch that very close up as they were developing, that it’s not the rarity that we think it could be, like we always think about this pie in the sky thing. And yes, that gift that they all have is super important. But this idea that we’re building a system that many of us have not had access to on a lot of different levels, and how important that part is, and I want you to dive a little deeper into that, because you did just hit on it. But to me, that’s power – building a system that creates access. And what does that mean for you?

KA: It’s huge. When you name the names that you mentioned that you know are champions, and then you know there was a big gap from Althea Gibson to the rest of us right? So we had players like Lesley Allen, Renee Blount, Kim Sands; people that no one unfortunately, know. And then you had that next generation of Zina Garrison, Lori McNeil, Camille Benjamin that people know. And then I came along with Chanda Rubin, Jeri Ingram, Stacey Martin, you know, some you’ve heard, some you haven’t heard of. And then now there’s just a slew of them, I can’t even name all of them, which is great. It’s great. Because when you look at Sloane Stephens, who is a US Open champion, Madison Keys, who got to the finals of that one, and 2017. And then you now have the emergence of Coco Gauff, Taylor Townsend, who’s a new mother who’s now coming back on the tour, etc. It’s great. But there’s a much larger pool of players, boys and girls that people just don’t know about. And they’re all playing college, there’s a lot of them that are getting college scholarships, etc. But the challenge, I think, for our people, for our community, is we can all develop, but the cost of getting to the next level is extraordinarily expensive. And if you don’t have your village that’s supporting you, that’s helping you get to these tournament so that you can continue to play so that you can have the opportunity, then that’s where we lose out.

(Edited for length and clarity)