It had been a tough loss. Sasha Wood
, a 15-year-old girl from Topsfield, Massachusetts, lost a tight third-set tiebreaker in the tournament final at an ITF event in Kingston, Jamaica. “I came all that way to lose in the finals,” she recalls. “It was really disappointing. I was upset. My dad and I got on the bus and barely said a word on the ride back to the hotel.”
But at the Jamaica Pegasus
hotel, her mood changed instantly. Sasha had volunteered to help two tennis coaches there teach a clinic as soon as she had completed her tournament. Eight local kids who were taking up tennis were in the clinic. “We had a great two hours,” Sasha says. “It immediately took my mind off the loss, and put it in perspective.
"The kids were so appreciative. It felt incredible to help them.”
Sasha, whose home tennis base is the Manchester Athletic Club
in Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts, helps junior academy coaches there with youth groups, teaching strokes to 4-7 year-old and 6-9 year-old players. She has been playing ITF events for six months, competing in Barbados, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico. At these international sites, Sasha has found that “It’s amazing to help out with local groups by contacting the pros at the hotel courts. When I ask a pro if there is any group I could help with once the tournament is over, the answer is usually a resounding ‘Yes!”
Sasha Wood in Jamaica
Sasha and her father, John Wood, have also made a practice of sending headbands, toys, clothes that Sasha has outgrown, and toiletries back to the kids, who often have very little in the way of resources, including tennis racquets and clothing. “There are very few clubs with tennis courts available to these kids,” says John Wood.“Things we take for granted, like having a drinking fountain where they are playing, often aren’t there.”
Sasha herself has had many advantages growing up. Parents John and Nancy Wood are recreational players and got Sasha started at age two. She played her first tournament at nine, and won. Over the next few years, Sasha played regional and national events, becoming the top-ranked girl in New England among the 12s, 14s, and 16s. She gained a national ranking of #16 in the 16s. Sasha does her high-school studies online and is currently ranked among the top 250 under-18 girls on the ITF circuit.
Another memorable tournament came in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, where a local pro became one of Sasha’s rooters in the tournament. “I noticed that during my first few matches, he watched, clapped, and cheered for me in Spanish. When we met, I tried to communicate, in my broken Spanish, that if I could, I’d like to help out with his young players. His daughter was there. We went to their house; his daughter had an old racquet and old balls. She was nine years old and had basically nothing—except above-average talent! She could hit! We exchanged emails and phone numbers, and when we got home, sent her some racquets, clothes, and toiletries.”
"In the future, I hope to continue my coaching and support in each country I visit, and to remind each child that with self-belief, you can accomplish anything.”
“The young kids in these places look up to Sasha,” says her father. “They see her playing in the semis or the finals of these tournaments, and the next thing you know, they are on the court practicing with her, the player they had just watched.” In the semis of the Santo Domingo event, two young girls were watching through the fence and cheering Sasha, shouting “Vamos!” Sasha recalls, “I found it calmed me down. I got through the third set and won the match. The two girls came running into my arms—it was the sweetest thing!
“No one has given them the confidence that they, too, could play ITF events,” Sasha says. “I try to tell them of their potential, and their attitude changes. Even half an hour can make a huge impact. In the future, I hope to continue my coaching and support in each country I visit, and to remind each child that with self-belief, you can accomplish anything.”
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