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August Wednesday Coaches Corner: American Women's Olympic Coach Zina Garrison

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Black Tennis Pro's Zina Garrison
Originally published by Black Enterprise Magazine, this article perfectly shines the light on Zina Garrison who will serve as coach to the 2008 U.S. Women's Olympic team. Makes me proud to spell my name W - O - M - A - N!!

Black Tennis Pro's Zina GarrisonLong before the Williams sisters hit the pros, Zina Garrison was paving the way for African American women on the tennis courts. An impressive 15-year career, her record, which boasts 37 titles (14 singles, 20 doubles, and three mixed doubles), is proof of her ability to tear up the courts.

Garrison began playing tennis at age 10, on the city courts in her hometown of Houston. Her brother's girlfriend in high school had introduced her to tennis and at the time, Garrison had absolutely no knowledge of the sport. Sitting on the benches of MacGregor Park, she picked up the basics of the sport. Garrison began to understand the power behind the tennis racket when she hit her first ball over the fence. From here she learned about "choking up the racket" and keeping the ball inside the court. The high light of her childhood moment was when Bill Cosby came to Houston for a tennis clinic and picked a young Garrison out of the audience to play against him. She would compete in her first tournament at age 11.

Unafraid of being watched by spectators, Garrison's technique on the court grew quickly. During high school, her skill level exceeded most of the other students on the team. Her senior year in high school would be an intense one when she became the No. 1 junior player in the state by the time she turned 17 years old, and the first African American woman to be ranked No. 1 in Texas. That same year, Garrison became the No. 1 junior player inBlack Tennis Pro's Zina Garrison the world and would travel to Japan to play in her first international tournament. Garrison was 18 when she played at Wimbledon for the first time.

"There were other black women at Wimbledon and the competition was very stiff. It was a very humbling experience," Garrison remembers. "The biggest challenge that black women faced in achieving excellence in sports, or at least those that I've experienced, was that it was often more difficult for us to garner the respect of the larger community and transcend racial overtones," says Garrison.

With Billie Jean King serving as her mentor, Garrison understands more than anyone else the importance of determination and hard work in achieving your goals. Serving as assistant coach to Billie Jean King, Garrison helped guide Venus Williams to Olympic gold-medal performances in women's singles. Garrison received the same opportunity in Sydney, Australia. She credits Billie Jean King with helping her become a great athlete.

"Billie Jean King taught me how to be a strong woman and how to fulfill my dreams," Garrison explains "She helped me discover my passions even though I was shy and a bit of an introvert, t tended to stay behind the scenes, and she taught me to step out of that mold and go for things I really wanted." Through Billie Jean King, Garrison also learned that what defines an amazing athlete is what is in his or her heart. "You can have all the Black Tennis Pro's Zina Garrisonability in the world, all the discipline and concentration, but you need to have a heart in order to succeed."

Garrison turned pro in 1982 and first appeared No 29 in the world rankings. She reached her career high seven years later when she ranked No 4. Garrison was the first African American to win an Olympic tennis medal when she struck gold at the 1988 summer games in Seoul, Korea, with Pam Shriver. Her hard work paid off when she became the first black woman since Althea Gibson to reach a Grand Slam final in 1990. Retiring from a long career on the pro tour in 1997, Garrison wasn't finished with tennis just yet. There was still work to be done.

This year, Garrison was the first African American to be appointed as Fed Cup captain She accepted this role as the only African American to hold the title in the 40-year history of the Black Tennis Pro's Zina Garrisonwomen's international competition. Her most recent accomplishment happened on February 18 of this year when Garrison was chosen to head the women's U.S. Olympic tennis team. She will head to the 2004 Olympic Games, traveling in Athens, Greece, with the tennis competition being staged at the Athens Olympic Tennis Center.

"All the women will have an opportunity to win a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Far me, it's going to be very challenging when it comes time to [decide who will] make the team for both singles and doubles, because I will have so many great players to choose from," explains the 41-year-old tennis ace training individuals who have different personalities and playing styles and getting them to work together as a team is a challenge that she is looking forward to. "The individuals who are chosen for the Olympic team are perfectionists. After all, they are the best in the country. But they are also very professional."

Besides her high-profile career as a tennis champion, Garrison has not forgotten her roots and continues to give back to her community. It was her lifelong dream to open her All-Court Tennis Academy, which opened its doors in 1991. The Zina Garrison All Court Tennis program is her way of giving inner-city children the opportunity to learn about themselves through the game of tennis and to help build self-esteem.

Black Tennis Pro's Zina Garrison"I wanted kids in Houston to have this program because tennis is such a great sport; because you can learn so much about yourself and your character," she says "I wanted to give something back to the inner-city kids and have them take advantage of learning more about tennis. This program helps get these kids to be the best that they can be."

She also introduced the Zina Garrison Foundation, which provides funds and support for the homeless, youth organizations, anti drug groups, and other charitable groups.



Posted by Shelia

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