Emily Stoian’s tennis adventure began quite by accident when she went with a friend to a one-day tennis camp at her elementary school in Wimberley, Texas. She got in the car that afternoon and told her non-tennis playing parents that she had found her sport! I looked at my daughter’s smile and pledged that day that I would do whatever was necessary to foster her dream.
During the summer of 2018, Emily attended the University of Texas Tennis Camp. Although she had no formal training and the weather would be harsh, we figured a week in this camp would either strengthen her love of tennis or would reveal it as a passing fancy. It was amazing! She flourished in the tennis environment. She loved everything about it…the people, the outfits, but most importantly she described the feeling of freedom when she was out there hitting that little yellow ball. Even when she fell on the court and roughed up her legs, arms, and face she would not give up for the day. It was the first time in her young life that I witnessed this level of determination to continue on with a sport.
After her positive experience at UT, we registered her for a few group lessons in the fall of 2018 at the Polo Tennis Club in Dripping Springs, Texas. She loved playing but she found herself a little adrift as she did not feel that she possessed the natural competitiveness and athleticism of the other students. However, the love of hitting that little ball kept her involved as we looked for clues to how to guide her in her endeavors.
We struggled to understand how to proceed and we also began to see the financial realities of her advancing in the sport of tennis. Despite our lack of tennis education and our limited financial resources, we pushed forward and hoped that clarity would emerge. As luck would have it, the answer was just around the corner.
In January 2019, we gifted Emily a lesson with Dinka Hadzic. She was thrilled to be receiving instructions from a real pro. She relished the experience so much that we arranged for a few more lessons over the next months. Her connection to Dinka was immediate and all of her insecurities fell away. She emerged happy, secure, enthusiastic, and willing to learn. This is what you always wish for your child, to find a coach or teacher with whom they connect. I knew after the first lesson that training with Dinka was the right road for Emily. In conjunction with the lessons, we enrolled Emily in AESA Prep Academy, a school connected with the tennis club. We knew this would keep Emily close to Polo, Dinka, and the tennis culture; however, we were fully aware that the financial strain on our family would be significant. We proceeded and started figuring out ways to make it work.
We each picked up an additional job, saved money wherever possible, and even opened up opportunities for Emily at Polo and AESA by taking in 2 exchange students for the 2019-2020 school year. It was all worth it as we watched Emily grow in her chosen sport. She developed confidence, learned to compete, and became an athlete before our eyes. It was a wonder to watch!
We were cruising along when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. For us adults, it was scary on many levels as we tried to stay employed and keep our families safe. However, to a child of 11, losing tennis was one of the greatest fears launched by Covid. She begged us to find a way to keep her playing during the unprecedented events that were unfolding. We took a week to get organized and then got her back on the court. Emily helped with everything. She came home after every lesson and bleached her rackets, washed the tennis balls, and sanitized everything she took out that day. Although we were stressed and trying to make ends meet through the pandemic, it was such a gift to watch Emily still enjoying life through tennis. It made us smile but also illuminated for us her determination to continue.
In the summer of 2020, Emily began participating in USTA tournaments. We knew she was ready but we wondered how it would all come together. We were not disappointed! The slow and steady training path she had been on for the past year paid off. Over the next months, she showed the technique she was developing but she also showed determination, strategy, and the willingness to try skills in a match that she was learning in lessons. This refusal to play survival tennis and the determination to try the skills her coach had taught her took her game to the next level. Due to the quality of her coaching, she went into 2021 with more confidence, maturity, and a solid set of tennis skills on which to build.
As we move into the second half of 2021, Emily is just as excited about tennis as she was that day after her first camp. She is now 12 years old and takes 3½ hours of private lessons per week. She also plays with club members whenever possible and has started one 2-hour group lesson per week. She continues to participate in tournaments once per month. There is not an over-emphasis on tournaments as we all continue to focus on technique and process over match results.
Her coach continues to create a fun, innovative and positive environment in which Emily thrives. Emily, for her part, shows up to every lesson with a sunny attitude and willingness to learn. It always looks like they were having the time of their lives on the court. When correction is needed, the coaching is direct but also kind and always with an understanding of Emily’s age, experience and temperament.
The most amazing aspect of this journey is that Emily was originally, and has continued to be, the driving force behind her dream. She plays not to fulfill someone else’s expectations, but because she loves the game. She relishes every part of the process including the lessons and the competitions. She remains open to instruction and is willing to trust her coach with whom she has formed an incredible bond. Her joy while on the court is undeniable and contagious.
The only stress related to Emily’s tennis development is financial. We are continuing to piece it all together but we are always looking for new and creative ways to fund this incredible journey. At the current time, the cost is approximately $1980/per month. Over 6 months this will total $11,880.