We’re delighted to welcome Tina Samara to the Study and Play USA family – we wanted to bring you some insights into this amazing athlete who is now ready to support our current and future students!
Study and Play USA are so excited to have you onboard and know you will bring so much experience and support to potential college athletes – what made you join us?
After our chance meeting at the Australia Open, I was fortunate to sit down with both Chris and Alexia Bates and talk about our careers, goals, and experiences. Chris and I even shared some “war stories” from our college tennis playing days! What stood out immediately was their authenticity and genuine care for the athletes they represent. Having been a college coach for 11 years, I had worked with many recruiting services. It was clear to me that Study and Play USA was different.
There was a real family feel to what they do and I could see how they invested in every athlete that came on board, not in just finding them the right schools, but also their genuine interest in how these athletes were doing long after they signed. This made them unique in my eyes and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to be a part of it.
You’ve had a busy sporting career – what have some of the highlights been?
Playing college tennis was such a great experience…it wasn’t all roses, but that is part of what I believe has helped me and countless other collegiate athletes deal with adversity later in life.
Being part of a National Championship team was amazing…and to this day a few of my closest friends were my college teammates. Playing Fed Cup for Norway was another great experience. Like college, it was a really different feeling to play for something bigger than just myself. Getting to play in two US Opens in my “hometown” of New York was special as well. Having the opportunity to play golf competitively for three years was also a highlight in my sporting career.
Of course, with ups – there are some downs. Can you perhaps let us know a couple and how you coped with these?
I have told many of the players I have coached over the years that every athlete in the world, regardless of how successful they are, have had some tough times. Along with winning national titles in college, I also remember some big matches that we lost. Someone always wins and someone always loses. That isn’t the case in every sport.
After taking some time to “mourn” these bigger loses, it was just a matter of reminding myself that there was always another opportunity around the corner. As cliché as it might be, there is a lot of truth to learning something from every loss. And sometimes, you just get beat by a better player!
Before college, did you always know what you wanted to achieve?
When I was about 15, I started to focus on trying to get an athletic scholarship to play tennis in college. I didn’t immediately have specific goals in mind for my collegiate years. Once I got my feet wet, started to understand the college system, and had some success, that is when I started giving myself more specific goals. But to be honest, initially the team results were always the main focus and the individual results were more of a by-product.
Tennis is a tough sport – what do you think are the key attributes for any aspiring tennis player?
I still believe in keeping a good “work-life” balance. I also believe in trying to “cross train” when possible and not specializing in one sport when you are young. This helps to alleviate burn out and injuries. Also, I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with good people who understand what you are trying to achieve and will help you to make good decisions along the way.
What is your advice to any Aussie athletes making the leap to the US?
Dive in! College athletics is such a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Embrace the independence and challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone. Be thankful there is Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp, etc!
We didn’t have that luxury to be able to stay in touch with our friends and family so easily. And most importantly, try to enjoy and not expect perfection on or off the court. Don’t be afraid to fail. Playing college sports is one of the best ways to learn resilience. Use the resources that these universities offer, especially for your academic success.
How would you say is the best way to survive your first year at college?
Expect it to be challenging in and out of the classroom. Prepare the best you can both academically and in your sport prior to your college start. Again, use all of the resources they give you like tutors, advisors, mentors, etc. Don’t wait until you are in “trouble” to use them.
What’s American slang/sayings do you think all Aussies need to know?
So many of my foreign players would answer that question with, “good”! We just mean, how are you doing, what’s new? I don’t think Aussies will have too many issues with the American slang.
Have you visited Australia and what do you think of it?
I played in Australia years ago on tour, but I can’t remember that far back! Fortunately, I was able to spend almost two months there this past December/January. I absolutely love it. I love the coffee and the avocado toast!
There is still so much more to explore. I am excited to visit the Study and Play USA headquarters in Brisbane in September as well.
There have been some great Australian tennis players, not least currently Ash Barty, what do you think of Australian tennis overall?
I feel like Australia has always produced solid players. I always felt Australian tennis players had been taught a good all court game, solid fundamentals, and nothing too flashy. And of course, recently Australia is seeing some great results from some of their younger up and coming players with Ash Barty leading the way.
Finally – what do you hope to achieve with Study and Play USA?
I hope to help build on the solid and reputable foundation Study and Play USA already has. With my background as a college player and coach, I can give some insight and comfort to players and their families when they are going through this process that we all know can be very stressful at times. I am excited to share my experiences and be part of helping these young athletes find a place where they can improve as an athlete and grow as a person. Ultimately, walking away with a great experience, education, friendships, and stories for a lifetime.