Prim Siripipat’s love of tennis was ignited at age 7, thanks in large part to a caring coach who influenced her life forever.
It was there, on the courts in her hometown of Mexico, Missouri, that forehands and backhands were taught with a smile.
And lots of encouraging words along the way.
“I’ll always remember my first coach, Jean Hill, when I was first starting to learn how to play tennis,” Siripipat says. “And I think everyone remembers their first coach because that can either make or break you when it comes to continuing on with the sport. She was so sweet and nurturing and supportive and she made the game fun.”
Siripipat, one of the mega-talented broadcasters who was part of ESPN’s unexpected layoffs earlier this year, is currently pursuing a professional tennis career. She was a standout collegiate player at Duke, but set those dreams of a life on the professional tour to the side for a broadcasting career following graduation.
So, as Siripipat treks across the globe playing a sport she loves, she’s never forgotten how instrumental Hill was in forging her connection to the sport during her childhood.
“I just remember standing at the service line and hitting with her and learning the fundamentals,” she says. “She always had this smile on her face and at least for me as a child that’s what I really needed to become attracted to the sport. Sometimes it’s not so much about the words because as a kid some things stick and some things don’t but for me I see it more in a coach’s behavior and how they take care of you as a student.”
Growing up, Siripipat was involved in a variety of activities, including gymnastics, ballet, track, basketball and music. She encourages today’s parents to expose their kids to as many different activities as possible so that youngsters have an opportunity to discover those which truly tug at their heart.
“It’s about introducing them to new things because you never know what is going to stick for a kid,” Siripipat says. “And make sure they love it because you don’t want to force a kid to do something they don’t want to do because that’s eventually going to backfire and ends up kind of sabotaging the relationship and you don’t want that. So really encourage them, pay attention to them and listen to them.”
Plus, as difficult as it can be sometimes, keep a grip on those emotions.
“Your job as a parent is to be just that – be the mother, be the father, be the nurturer, be the supportive, compassionate, loving role model that your child needs,” Siripipat says. “The moment you start trying to be everything and be the coach you’re tearing down the relationship and that can have a long-lasting effect for children much more than parents know.”
During her journey through youth tennis she saw the damage that was done by overbearing parents.
“I’ve witnessed it with other parents who try to be everything,” she says. “The relationship ends up being toxic and it becomes an unhealthy relationship and sometimes the kids will walk away and they’ll begin to learn how to tune out their parents – not only for that period of their life but forever and you don’t want that.”
SAVORING THE JOURNEY
Returning to high level, competitive tennis certainly isn’t easy.
“In terms of personal projects this is probably the biggest, most challenging one I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Siripipat says.
Through the years her love for the game never waned; and being back on the court she has enjoyed the hard work and the grind of working on her game every day.
“There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to come back and try this again,” she says. “A lot of it had to do with facing old fears and pains and mistakes and regrets and a lot of that is scary. It’s kind of going back and facing the past a little bit. But it’s been extremely rewarding and I have really enjoyed the process.”
And her outlook is one that all young athletes in any sport should embrace.
“There are times when I get a little wrapped up in the results or the wrong things,” she says. “And I really have to remind myself that this is about the journey – it’s always about the journey – and it’s not about the destination.”
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