While many 5-year-olds are discovering that they can count to 20 and dress themselves without help (which can get pretty creative at times), Zoë P. was realizing during play time at her Montessori school that she had a true passion for and talent in a sport she’s grown to love: tennis.
Now 8 years old and in 3rd grade at the Fairmont North Tustin Campus, Zoë dedicates a significant amount of her time — at least 10 1/2 hours per week, to be exact — to improving her game. Working with her personal coach at LAT Tennis Academy West in Lakewood in both group sessions and private lessons six days throughout the week, she focuses on fitness, strength, and the various specific aspects that must be perfected on the court, including her technique, footwork, and swing.
Zoë currently plays against many girls who are significantly older than she is. Because she was not being challenged as much in the 10 and under division, she moved up to the 12 and older division in order to play at a faster pace and with more experienced opponents. Though doing so doesn’t allow her to win as often — right now, anyway — coming home with trophies isn’t her main focus.
“It’s not about winning,” she said. “It’s about having the experience.”
And that experience has allowed her to continue to grow and progress in the sport and in her training. Her strength is evidenced by her domination of her peers at her tennis academy while doing planks as part of the core portion of their time in the weight room — which resulted in her coach referring to her as a “warrior.”
In addition to maintaining her fitness, one key component Zoë has been working to improve is her ability to stay focused during her matches and block out any outside distractions from getting in the way. And, according to her father, Andy, she can be quite the challenge for her opponents when she’s able to do so.
“When she dials in, it’s deadly,” he said.
Though Zoë eventually hopes to play at a Division I school at the collegiate level and then at the professional level, as well, her immediate goal is keeping that focus in check.
“It’s like when you ride a horse, and it has blinders on so that it only can see straight ahead,” she said. “I try to act like I have those on so that I won’t think of too many things at once [on the court].”
As she continues to hone her skills in this area, one particular aspect of being an athlete that Zoë has truly come to appreciate is how much it helps her off the court, as well, particularly when it comes to advancing her math skills. She pointed out that she applies mathematics while she’s playing, using it to determine angles, how close she needs to be to the net, how far she needs to extend her swing, etc., and this has become advantageous for her at school, as well.
“Every time we come in the classroom, we do math,” she said. “My dad and my teacher were talking about this [recently], and my teacher said that math is my strongest subject. I think the reason why is because tennis is all about math.”
In addition to tennis, Zoë also spends her time playing the piano and learning Chinese. However, what she pictures for her future certainly has tennis in the foreground. She looks up to Maria Sharapova and Billie Jean King, two women who have made names for themselves and had tremendous impacts in the world of tennis. Zoë knows that, in order to be like these women who have paved the path for others to follow, it will take a great amount of dedication and persistence.
“You have to work at it,” she said. “It’s kind of like when you’re learning multiplication — everything isn’t just going to come to you. You have to keep practicing and keep trying.”