Go To College Or Become A Pro Player?
We caught up with Whitney Kay, a former North Carolina Tar Heel with an impressive collegiate resume, to discuss her tennis experience growing up and the decisions she made in shaping her career.
Who introduced you to tennis, and when did you fall in love with the sport?I moved from Kansas to Atlanta when I was 5. My parents started to play and thought "Let's put the kids in lessons." I have two brothers, and we played and competed together. Tennis helped us relate to one another and to grow closer, since it was something we did together every day. Then, when I was 9, my dad went to Saddlebrook and talked about how fun it was. My twin brother and I really wanted to go to Saddlebrook after that! My dad made us a deal: If we practiced an hour a day for two weeks, he would take us too. This is the first time I really understood what it took to be tennis player and really started to love the sport. I only wanted to practice, though, not compete. I was nervous, but I ended up entering some local tournaments and ended up really enjoying them! Little Mo was the turning point in my career. It was my first chance to play at the big tournament and to see what I could do.
How long were you homeschooled for? Do you think that being homeschooled is necessary for serious players?I was homeschooled from seventh until college. My twin brother really wanted to be homeschooled. My dad thought it was good for him and for his tennis. In Georgia you can't miss more than five days of school, so it would have been impossible to stay in school and take tennis to the level that my brother wanted to. He really had to be homeschooled, and that kind of influenced me to make the same decision shortly after. So yeah, I think that being homeschooled is necessary in order to become a serious tennis player.
Did you play at an academy?I played at a few academies, like I went to Hilton Head at Smith Sterns for about three months when I was 14, but mainly my dad was our coach. It was interesting because he was actually a swimmer in college and he's very competitive. But it's a different type of competition. In tennis, you play against somebody who tries to beat you, and in swimming you're competing against yourself really and racing the clock.
Why did you decide to go to college rather than become a professional?You never know when or if you'll get injured, so I think it is important to have a backup plan and get an education. When I started getting recruited as a freshman I started taking tennis more seriously and realized that there was a good shot that I could get a college scholarship. I always knew that I wanted to go to college, so that was my main goal. With this opportunity, I wanted to make sure that I could get into the best school possible that also had a great tennis program.
Why did you pick UNC?We started to visit a school every time that we went to a tournament. We toured to see the schools and to also get an idea of what we liked. I ended up committing to UNC my junior year in high school, so pretty early. I just fell in love with UNC as soon as I got there. The team and coaches were amazing, and I really liked the aspect of being on a team and having a close-knit group of people to enjoy the college experience with.
If you had to do it all over again from the beginning, would you do anything different?We weren't able to play ITF tournaments. There were three of us, so it would have been difficult for my parents to be able to support all three of us playing internationally. I think I would have liked to have had the chance to play ITF and play the junior slams. That could have opened up the option for a pro career. I hadn't even thought about it -- I wish I had. I would still have made the same decision to go to school, but I would have liked to have that decision to make.
Where are you at now with tennis? Are you still trying to make it on the tour?I took some time away from it after school, but it just wouldn't feel right if I didn't try. I played a few tournaments. Also, I didn't want to play singles, and it is too hard to "make it" as a professional doubles player.
Now I play mixed doubles with my brother in the ALTA league. It's all former college players so it's perfect for me now, because it's competitive but also just for fun.