Accountant Cayla Cross made a vow at her father’s funeral.
Her dad, Howard Cross, had been a tennis coach for 15 years; she would follow in his footsteps.
Last year the 31-year-old followed through on that promise, leaving the world of numbers to open the Cross Court Tennis Academy at the Reefs in Southampton.
“This is a legacy business,” she said. “My father also taught at the Reefs.”
Ms Cross said tennis was the love of her dad’s life.
“Every conversation we had, somehow tennis was brought into it,” she said. “I did not mind. I just understood him. Now with him gone, I miss that.”
Her father came late to tennis. He was previously known for cricket and martial arts.
“My mother got him into tennis,” Ms Cross said. “He picked up tennis and absolutely loved it. Then he wanted to become a coach.”
At ten years old, Ms Cross became his reluctant first student.
“That first lesson was really boring,” she said. “I thought, ‘Never again’. The lesson was very structural. Then he offered me ten cents every time I hit the ball over the net. At the end of the next class I earned myself $10.”
She went home and flashed her cash. Suddenly her older brother Lamar also wanted to play tennis.
They both turned out to be naturals. Her father thought she had an edge in tennis because she was a dancer in school.
“He would tell me that what separated me from other players was my footwork,” Ms Cross said.
She often had to practise against Lamar. In the beginning he was better, because he was five years older.
“Now I am better,” she said.
She thought that being made to practise with someone bigger, taller and stronger gave her an advantage.
“I will say that Lamar is the reason I dominated with the females, because as he was older and much stronger than me, by the time I hit against the other females it was easy,” she said.
She and Lamar went on to become some of Bermuda’s best players, and her father eventually became Bermuda’s under-14 tennis coach.
Lamar Cross made it to No 1 in the 18 and under category.
“The best that I did was No 1 in every division in Bermuda,” Ms Cross said. “I represented Bermuda in various tournaments.”
Tariq Simons was another of Mr Cross’s early students.
“He was a beginner with my father,” Ms Cross said. “Then at 12 years old he went to live in Jamaica. He was still there when my dad died but he is now back in Bermuda, and is currently Bermuda’s best player.”
When Ms Cross got older, she went to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina on a tennis scholarship. She studied accounting.
“I always figured I would help my father one day as he was ageing,” she said. “But when I graduated from university in 2013, I put tennis on the back burner. I was focused on obtaining my CPA and adjusting to Bermuda life again. Tennis had served its purpose.”
But in 2015 she got into the sport again, winning the 2015 Deloitte Tournament held at Pomander Gate in Paget.
When her father died in April 2016, at age 68, she took over his contract at the Reefs, but only went full time with it a year ago.
She does not miss the world of accounting.
“Knowing my background, everyone has been happy and supportive,” she said. “My last employer wished me well. They could see that I would eventually do this.”
Through her academy, she teaches children five years old and up and also adults. Taking a page out of her father’s book, she has implemented rewards and prizes as a means of motivation. To make things interesting, she sometimes coaches to music.
“I switch up their drills all the time so it does not become repetitive,” she said.
Compared with her father, she is less aggressive as a coach.
“He was very disciplined,” she said, “and very drill sergeant in approach.”
So far she has a few promising students, but is still searching for another one like herself.
“I am searching for that next female superstar,” she laughed.
She believes that to be successful in tennis you need to be confident, have great sportsmanship and work well under pressure.
“You should have a great attitude,” she said. “There are many values you should incorporate, and training for tennis will help make those out of you. Tennis practice is going to shape you to have all those great qualities and characteristics.”
Growing up, one of her role models was tennis legend Serena Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, more than any other woman or man during the open era.
“At the time Serena was the best,” Ms Cross said. “She was aggressive. She pumped her fist. She showed emotion on the court and that was the type of player I was.”
She described herself as a coach who genuinely cares.
“I am following my father’s footsteps,” Ms Cross said. “He was my father and he had my best interests at heart. That is the approach that I am taking with my students.”
She also offers creative takes on the classes she offers, such as a cardio tennis class for adults.
Her goal is to keep growing.
“I would like to keep getting kids involved, especially those who might not have considered tennis, because it is not on the radar,” she said. “I would like to get other students scholarships for tennis. I would like to see the next professional tennis player be from Bermuda and be from my group.”
Her dream is to one day be a national tennis coach for Bermuda.
She thinks her father would be proud to see her taking up the baton, and putting her own spin on things.
Although he is gone, he left her with plenty of advice to fall back on.
“Every conversation had a lesson in it,” she said. “He really instilled in me the need to know myself and follow my mind and heart. He taught me to be a leader.”
For more information, see @cross_court_tennis_academy on Instagram, e-mail email@example.com or call 505-0832
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Cayla carries on dad's tennis legacy – Royal Gazette
Accountant Cayla Cross made a vow at her father’s funeral.