How this tennis pro retired the racket and found her dream job in journalism
I first started playing tennis at the age of 7. After finishing top 8 in Canada, I moved down to Florida to train at the Chris Evert Tennis Academy. I played for the International Tennis Federation, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and eventually NCAA division 1. The training regimen was tough, including five a.m. wake up calls, four hours on the court every day, intense cardio and agility work, and plenty of time in the gym.
I have since traded in my tennis rackets for a microphone, working as a reporter for CBC Olympics, TSN, Sun News, and most recently the National Lacrosse League. I feel that a lot of my success as a broadcaster comes from skills I learned as a tennis player. The following are skills that I learned from being a professional tennis player that have helped me with my career and that can help you as well.
You will never be a great tennis player if you are not a great problem solver. Tennis is different from other sports because you are out on the court all by yourself. There is no teammate to sub in when you are struggling, and no coach to call a time-out when you’re losing. It’s just you and your opponent. If plan A isn’t working, then you need to figure out plan B and C before the match is over.
In my career, I use problem solving all the time. As a sports reporter covering breaking new, anything can happen: the underdog can come out on top and interview features can fall through. You have to be on your toes and ready for plans to change on a dime. My experience with problem solving as a tennis player has helped me figure out a new direction when a story doesn’t go as planned. This skill can come in handy in just about any job function, and it can be developed. Be ready to adapt, and don’t panic if plan A doesn’t work out.
Handling pressure and nerves
As a professional athlete, all eyes are on you, which could be nerve-racking. I will never forget my first WTA tournament. I was so nervous when I went to sit down on a change over, I completely missed my chair and fell. My former coach (and former world number one), Chris Evert, helped me overcome these nerves. She said, “90 per cent of the game is mental toughness. It’s my concentration that has gotten me so far.” She worked with me on different techniques like visualization and breathing. I would stare at a tennis ball and think of the match before heading onto the court. I would practice breathing in twice and out once when it was a big point. These techniques kept me calm – even in a third set tie-breaker.
As a reporter, I have covered live breaking news on national networks. In this scenario, there is no room for error, and I use the same visualization and breathing techniques to help keep me calm, even when I am about to go live for the biggest news story of the day. I will visualize the story and the script in my head and focus on my breathing to keep my nerves at bay.
To play on the WTA circuit takes serious commitment, practice, and work. I would be up before the sun every day to practice technique with a ball machine. I would then spend four hours on the court daily, followed by speed and strength training.
The process taught me the true definition of work ethic, and this was summed up by something my first coach, Casey Curtis, told me: “If you aren’t working, someone else is and when you meet them, they will beat you.” That’s true in any industry. If you want to be the best, you must work hard, because someone else most definitely is.
The work ethic that I learned as a professional tennis player has paid dividends in my career as a broadcaster. As a reporter and videographer at The National Lacrosse League (NLLTV), I am not just on camera reading scripts. I am also the camerawoman, the editor, the producer, the writer … I am basically a one-woman band with 10 different jobs each day. Juggling those different hats, and putting in the time to master those skills, would not have been possible without the work ethic I learned as a tennis player.
While I played mostly singles, I was actually a much better doubles player (I was, actually, ranked second in the nation in doubles). To be a great doubles player, you have to be a great teammate. You need to complement each other, enhancing strengths and hiding weaknesses, and you can only do this by communicating effectively.
Just like our two-person doubles team, NLLTV has a very small team. While production is my department, I also help with social media and writing if they need an extra hand. We’re all in it together, supporting each other and working together for the team to be successful.
The communication aspect ties in with the teamwork. When I played doubles tennis, I needed to be able to communicate with my partner effectively. There is a very short period between points so we had to make sure we were on the same page quickly. We also used a lot of non- verbal communication like hand signals to know where to serve and where to move.
In a lot of ways, these communication skills have been the key to my career. With co-workers, I need to understand the best way to communicate to make sure we are producing exceptional content. And with viewers, I need to communicate stories that matter in a way that resonates with them.
Professional tennis is no longer my career, but the skills and experiences I gained through that period of my life have helped me transition into broadcasting and journalism … and they can help you too. By being adaptable and calm, and focusing on teamwork and communication (all while working hard), you can be a success in just about any industry you choose.
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Mia Gordon is a former professional tennis player and a sports broadcaster. Over the course of six years, she has worked for TSN, CBC Olympics, and the Sun News Network. She is now a host, reporter, and producer for Sportsnet and the National Lacrosse League.