- 01.14.2022 Anastasia Pagonis: Game Changer Of The Month
I support PCA because of my personal experiences—both as an athlete and now as a parent to children aspiring to become athletes—seeing how sports and positive coaching can influence a child’s life. I started playing tennis at the age of 7 and played competitively for as long as I can remember. I became ranked on the ATP tour and received a full scholarship to Stanford University. Tennis has brought me a lot of joy and opportunities in life, and I certainly would not be where I am today without it. But it had a dark side as well. My parents immigrated to the United States from China, and my father, like many of his generation and cultural upbringing, equated success in life with winning and being #1. He demanded the world from me. Christmas mornings were spent hitting on the ball machine. Birthdays were just a reminder of what age division I was in. We never went on any family vacations—just tennis tournaments. Tennis for me was trying to live up to my father’s expectations, and when I failed (inevitably), there were often consequences.
As I grew older, it was hard for me to enjoy tennis and sometimes life in general. There were times when I wanted to quit both. Looking back, I am so grateful for the positive coaches in my life. One coach, in particular, took me under his wing in high school and completely changed the way I thought about tennis. He emphasized things like good character, building relationships, and having fun—things you do not often hear from coaches training blue-chip tennis players. My coaches at Stanford were the greatest examples to me of positive coaching. No matter how I did on the tennis court—and I came up short in a lot of big matches—they always had my back no matter what and were always there for me through my struggles in tennis and in my personal life. They are still that way today.
I am now a proud father of four amazing children, all of whom enjoy playing sports. My 12-year-old daughter is an aspiring tennis player. She has competed all over the country and is doing quite well. She genuinely loves the game. No one forces her to play. We emphasize character and integrity, and we value friendships on and off the court. We try not to focus so much on rankings and tennis ratings.
We try to have fun. My approach has basically been—don’t do to her what my father did to me. As the saying goes, "tennis begins with love."
To conclude, I do appreciate everything my father did for me. He sacrificed a lot, and I believe he did what he thought was best. That was how he was raised, and he just did not know any better. That is why I think PCA and its mission are so important to youth sports. I see so many parents today at junior tennis tournaments elevate winning over things like integrity and good sportsmanship. These parents don’t know any better either, but they can change.
Indeed, my father has changed. I did not speak to my father for over four years after I left for college, but today, we have a good relationship. We sometimes reflect on all the things we learned and could have done better or differently during my youth. One thing he has said is he wished he wasn’t so hard on me and that he spent more time as a dad and not a “tennis parent.”