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Debbie Mahdessian



Children: Sam, 23; Henry, 19; Theo, 17; Oliver, 15; Simon, 11

Photo of Debbie Mahdessian
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What makes tennis a special part of your life?

Tennis has been a big part of our family ever since Sam, my oldest, started taking pee-wee classes through Parks and Rec in Santa Monica when he was 4 years old. The other boys all followed suit and have remained in tennis (with the exception of Theo, who plays lacrosse) competitively for the past 20 years.


Sam played tennis for his team in college, and the other boys have played on school teams, USTA Junior Team Tennis teams, CTC Teams and individual USTA tournaments. Through their participation in the various tennis programs, I got involved – first as a volunteer, and more recently, I launched a program of my own in January 2017, the Santa Monica Tennis Collective. At the heart of the program is the mission to build an inclusive tennis community that reflects the diversity of ability, background, as well as the socio-economics of Santa Monica and the westside.

My years as a tennis mom have shown me that tennis can be a lonely and exclusive sport. What got my children and me over those difficult humps of losing and feeling “alone” was the community we found through team tennis. Those friends have remained a central part of our daily life, even as kids move on to different schools. Helping other families find that connection through team tennis has been a passion of mine that drives my program.


Tennis has evolved from being a sport my kids participate in to being a vocation for myself and two of my boys. Sam currently works for both me and Josh Oswald, who runs Tennacity Tennis, and Henry works with me, as well. Tennis employment with Stella Sampras and Rance Brown in their UCLA summer camps was also how Sam and Henry filled their summers. I have been able to witness firsthand how tennis is a life sport and a life changer.


Why do you think it is important for your children to play tennis?

Tennis is not only a great sport physically, but what it teaches kids mentally serves them well in all the other aspects of their life. They learn to problem solve, be self-sufficient and persevere. I have also seen how it has allowed my older boys to work while in school, and for my eldest, although he has graduated college, he is combining tennis coaching with his job as a journalist. Tennis also fosters lasting friendships for kids and their parents. And it is a great “ice-breaker.” You can go anywhere in the world and play tennis with someone, even if you don’t share a common tongue. It is a universal language.


What is your most memorable tennis moment for you/your child?

1. Simon winning the SCTA Sportsmanship of the Year Award last year and being at the banquet, seeing all the amazing players who also won awards, as well as reading about the past recipients.
2. Watching Sam play his final college tennis match. He holds the record for the third-most victories in the history of his school. I never got to see any of his matches throughout his four years, so for my birthday in April 2016, his dad and I flew to Iowa to see the last home match of the season.


What has tennis taught you about yourself and your children?

Tennis mirrors life in both its ups and downs. I see the good and bad in myself as a parent in the ways I interact with my kids. It helps keep me in check. I think for my kids, it teaches them, perhaps earlier than non-tennis kids, some life lessons and skills that serve them on and off the court.


For myself, it has helped me to become a better “problem solver,” as well as community builder. It has helped me see my children’s strengths and vulnerabilities and also to appreciate them and all the children who put themselves out there in tennis. Learning to play competitive tennis is complex, and it takes a lot longer to get to the playing-matches part than other sports get before you can compete. Kids are so amazing, receptive and willing to learn. I love being a part of that process for all kids.


What is a community or personal accomplishment that you can share?

Creating Santa Monica Tennis Collective and getting to know the amazing families and community members who have made this possible. I am going to be running my first USTA Tournament, a level 7, in April, here in Santa Monica. I am so excited to be a part of building a vibrant tennis community in my home town.


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