Talk about Confidence

I went to an exhibition tennis event awhile ago and got to talk in front of couple dozen kids about my tennis journey. Given that the kids were all in middle or high school, I decided to give them a little pump up speech about achieving their goals and getting into college they love, competing for a team and then…I asked  how many of them had hopes of playing in college? The kids gave me a blank stare and no one raised their hand. Yikes. The event went on, kids asked questions, participated in the on-court clinic…all good.

Except…I could not get over the fact that out of a whole group of kids who trained daily/weekly, whose parents paid for their tennis lessons with private coaches..NO ONE thought they were good enough to play for college. I mean, there are different divisions, different levels, varsity teams, club teams…Even if you are not the greatest player in the world, you can find a spot for your talent, if you just believe in yourself a little more.

Now that I am a tennis coach and not a player, I can talk about confidence without sounding cocky (maybe just a little bit).

There are so many talented kids out there but when you ask them what their goals are or how good do they think they can be, they don’t sound too sure.

“Well, my opponent is really good, so I will try my best, but I really don’t know how it will go…”

“Yeah, I hope I can play for a university one day…UCLA, Stanford?-Oh no, those are too good…maybe I can get a scholarship at a D2 school in my home town…”

There is nothing wrong with a D2 school (those can be really good at sports and academics as well!) or with acknowledging your opponent, but you gotta aim higher! Lack of confidence and big dreams is the reason why many kids never get to the next level. They can perform great at practice, train with best coaches, but it is nearly impossible to become a winner until you get a mentality of “Yeah, I can do it! I have been training my butt off and I can’t wait to show my opponent what I am made of!”

Now…how do you become confident with yourself and your game? Remembering myself when I was about 14 years old, I was terrible. Not actually terrible at tennis, but I just could not win. I was still top something in Russia and won a lot of matches, but I could never beat people who a seeded higher than me. I had a phobia of those highly confident kids with amazing tennis skills, I did not think I could beat them, so i lost the battle before I even entered the court.

At the age of 16 things changed dramatically for me, I won my first professional tournament, realized who I am and what I can do and ever since then I feared nobody.

So how do you make that switch and help yourself or your child to get that confidence? There is no easy answer to this and no formula works for all, but here are some tips that worked for me.

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Be Super

  1. Stop putting too much pressure

Yeah yeah, parents and coaches, that one is mostly for you! When expectations are high and the player feels like they are never good enough, it is hard to go out there and perform with confidence. When every match feels like a Wimbledon finals, it is easy to get anxious and forget your game. People will say: “But in order to prepare for playing at Wimbledon one day, they have to learn how to deal with pressure!” -Absolutely. But not when they are 14 years old and are still very far from being a mental warrior. You have to be able to relax and enjoy the game-that comes first. And when you are enjoying yourself and performing great,  the confidence grows, so does the ability to perform under pressure.

2. The world does not end if you lose…or win.

No matter how bad or good you play, you always have a next tournament. So you can’t get into a celebration mode for two weeks after a tournament win, or get extremely upset when you lose. Analyze what went right or wrong and get to training. I have a good story as an example. I feel like this was the turning point in my mental game, and helped me to focus on the present.

So my coaches before I came to America were pretty up-tight before my matches, trying to cram all the last-minute strategy tips, while I was just trying to go to the bathroom before my match. They made a big deal out of every tournament and I was always nervous. I came to U.S when I was 15 and started to train with a new coach- really laid back guy from Jamaica, Sly. Sly never seemed to worry about anything, was always in a good mood and made practice really fun. I went to play a tournament in Nicaragua when I turned 16 and won the whole thing, beating a top 400 player in the world in the finals. It was a huge deal to me, I was on cloud 9! My first pro tournament win in singles and finals in doubles, WOW!

So I get back to Florida and call Sly, dying to tell him the news.

-Yo, Whats up Yanaa?

-Hi, I am back!I won!

-Won what? The qualies? haha You coming to practice at 8 tomorrow?

-No, I won the whole thing, got two trophies!

-Ohhh, nice! So you coming at 8 tomorrow then?

I was speechless! All that excitement, and he is asking about coming to practice? But that made me realize that even though this was a great accomplishment, I still had to get up and train for more. And when I came back from a horrible tournament, he had the same reaction-come to practice! That was the time when I became more relaxed and became a much better mental player. This may sound like a funny story, but I really credit Sly for helping me to loosen up and play to my full potential.

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3. Fake it till you make it!

Even if you don’t feel 100% confident, do not ever show that to your opponent. Someone asks you how pumped are you for the match? Very pumped! Don’t show your nerves, hide it and fake it until you actually become a confident beast. It may sound silly but it works.

My freshmen year we had a psychologist come in to talk to the team and he asked how confident we felt on a scale from 0 to 10. So everyone said 5,6,7,8…Then it was my turn and I asked: “10 is the highest, right? So, 10 for me!”  The psychologist was really surprised by my answer and at the end of the speech wished us luck and that we could improve our confidence levels. He said: Maybe you can go from 7 to 8, from 8 to 9, and you, Yana, from 10 to 11!” So I gave him a look: ” You said 10 was the highest! If I knew 11 was possible, I would say 11.”  Sounds cocky, but this was mostly just my humor. I wasn’t going to say anything but the max number, even if I didn’t feel like it. Show people that your confidence is  a 10, but inside keep working on improving it to  reach the max!

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4. Work on yourself.

Not just in the gym and the tennis court, but work on your mental game. It comes from you and you are the only one that knows what can help you. Watch motivational videos, read a great book, listen to music that pumps you up. No love ballads in my pre-game playlist, Lil Wayne’s lyrics “Sky is the limit” get me going, so find songs that boost your motivation. Great website http://addicted2success.com/ has motivational videos, quotes and reads, where you can find something that you can relate to. Read a book by pretty much any great athlete to see what it takes to become great. I loved “No Limits” by  Michael Phelps and “Eleven Rings” by Phil Jackson.

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5. Find confidence in your other aspects of life

Very often athletes overlook the importance of life outside of sports. Focusing on your athletic career is great but when you lost after having five match points and you are feeling worthless, it helps to know that you are amazing at something other than tennis. It can be a hobby, a supportive group of friends that will take you out to movies, or anything that can help you feel great even if tennis is failing on you. I think a good way to find that inner peace is by reading books and volunteering in the community. It made me feel so good when we did fundraising events to help kids or got secret Santa gifts for the community…Even when I lost my match or got injured, I knew I did something important and no one could take that feeling away from me.

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-Yana

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Racial Protests in Sports. Do athletes have a voice or should they just “Shut up and play”?!

I am taking a sport sociology class this summer and had an assignment that asked to find a recent article about some social issue in sport and make a research with a presentation on the topic. It is summer, so I wanted to get over with the assignment as soon as possible, but found myself more interested in the topic than I ever thought I would be…for a summer class anyway. I found a recent article that focused on the actions of St. Louis Rams football players that entered the field with their hands raised- the sign of protest against killing of Mike Brown, black teenager, who was shot dead by a white police officer. These are the pictures of the protest:
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The protest was taken offensively by St.Louis Police Officers Association and the organization demanded apology from players. Rams Executive Vice President Kevin Demoff gave a call to police department, which according to Chief Jon Belmar included an official apology. However, Kevin Demoff later clarified that he did not apologize, stating that Rams respect the First Amendment rights of their players as well as the local law enforcement. Rams’ coach Jeff Fisher and NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy also stayed away from making apologies and did not discipline players for their protest. However Fox News talk show hosts did not agree with the players’ right to voice their opinion. Talk show host Laura Ingham stated: “I didn’t care for it because it’s also not based on any facts, “Ingraham said.” ‘Shut up and play’ would be my preferred.”
The reaction of the media and criticism that the athletes received despite the “okay” from the football organization shows that people still refuse to view athletes as individuals with opinions outside the field. Athletes are still expected to give scripted interviews, and only show personality in completely non-controversial ways…such as tell fans what music they like or what they had for lunch.
I decided to explore the history of racial protests in sports as part of the project and see why this is happening and what athletes have done to change the situation.
After Arizona’s Republican Governor passed Arizona Senate Bill 1070 in April 2010, many people were outraged with the bill because it gave too much power to police and would lead to racial profiling. Phoenix Suns, led by outspoken Steve Nash decided to wear “Los Suns” jerseys to show their protest against the bill and show support to immigrants.

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Here is what Nash said about the bill and their protest: “I think the law is very misguided. I think it’s, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it’s very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us.”
Even though there were many people that supported Suns, a lot of fans and media were outraged by the “Los Suns” move

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-Richard O’Davis, sports history professor said about the Suns: “”Normally, sports figures are reluctant to stick their necks out,” Davies said. “And it’s very unusual for teams to take a stand.”
Basketball legend coach Phil Jackson stated that he would not put the sport team in the middle of political controversies like that.
And one fan ever shredded her tickets as a sign of protest…she was that outraged by what the team has done.
This was the reaction of the public to athletes speaking up in 2010..But let’s go way back in the days and see how things were then.
One of the first names that come to our when we think a great athlete and a social activist is Muhammad Ali.

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Born Cassius Clay, in 1964 he converted to Islam and changed his biological name to the one we all know-Muhammad Ali. The reporters commented about his moves “Settle down and fly right.” But Ali did not believe that simply fighting and obeying the rules was the “right” thing to do. He was a big believer in the equal rights for African-Americans and was an outspoken activist. When he was drafted to go to Vietnam for war in 1967, he refused to go because he did not believe in fighting the war that has nothing to do with him and his people.
He said: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

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For that Ali was jailed, stripped of the heavyweight title and had his boxing license revoked. Ali is a symbol of fighting against racism till this day and he is a true hero for many people.
As Jeffrey Sammons said : “A true believer in American possibility, Ali embodied black heroism as he blazed his own path to glory.”

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In contrast with Ali, another champion Michael Jordan does his best to stay away from politics. He protects his brad and is well liked all around the world, he never got into any trouble with politics and makes millions by selling shoes and lots of other things.

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-The question is, however, does that make him a hero?
-Jordan was asked to use his celebrity and get involved in politics many times but he refused to do so.
When asked about Rodney King riots in Los Angeles,1992, Michael Jordan replied: “I need to know more about it.” He refused to support black politician Harvey Gantt’s senator campaign: “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” was his reasoning for non-action.
Jordan never did anything about the overpriced sneakers that Nike produced under his name, even though most kids that were the target market could not afford them.
He also did not do anything about Nike’s exploitative labor practices in Asia, because Nike was his sponsor and he made money off those sales.
“He’s more interested in his image for his shoe deals than he is in helping his own people,”- Jim Brown said of Jordan in 1992
-This is an example of non-involvement by an athlete to stay very marketable and keep out of trouble
Marketability and sponsors are important, but another reason why most athletes do not get involved is far more serious. Jordan’s teammate Craig Hodges was not the one to “shut up and play”

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-He wore traditional western-African garb known as a dashiki to the White House and later on handed Jorge W Bush a hand-written letter, asking for more support for those in need in OUR country, rather than spending money on foreign projects.
After that incident Hodges was left unemployed and no team in the league would take him. Nobody knows why, but statistics show that Hodges was a decent player and could easily make an NBA team, at least one of them
He reflected on the situation: ““I went from making $600,000 a year to making nothing,” Hodges said. “No one would take my calls, no one would give me a chance. I went from helping a team win it all, to all of a sudden not being good enough to play for the worst team in the league. Do I think the league had it out for me? You tell me.”
A more recent example of an athlete that had to pay for his outspoken words was Rashad Mendelhall, who became “Football’s Newest Villain” after his tweets about Osama Bin Laden in 2011. He immediately lost his endorsement with Champion clothing and now quit football and became an actor and screenwriter.

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For some reason such life path still surprises people more than football players that get arrested for drugs and abuse.

-Here is a quote from a study done about the racial protests in sports and people’s perception of athletes: ““ According to American standards and tradition, a black male athlete is not supposed to think for himself. Instead, he is supposed to be easily distracted by gold chains, fancy cars, lots of women . . . . By standing up as an intellectual warrior in his own way, Mendenhall challenged the notion that his gatekeepers would think for him”.
As a society we don’t expect athletes to be more than a stereotype and when they are many people get offended…still.
Many teams and athletes stay away from taking political stands because they are scared to lose fans and become less marketable. Sports industry and fans get easily offended when athletes voice their opinions about social issues. However, athletes can use their celebrity status to raise awareness to important issues. Because of the sacrifices that great athletes made in the past, today we live in a more accepting world and current stars don’t have to lose their jobs when they speak out. “There is more to all of our athletes than ‘The Belt’,ring, trophy, banner…Do we want to hear it?!”-ESPN’s LL Hranderson

I believe that athletes as celebrities are role models for many. If Lebron posts on Instagram that he is eating cereal for breakfast, thousands of people will copy. This power can be used to change so many things in the world. The reality is that the “gatekeepers” know the power of athlete’s celebrity and power of their voices. I believe that this is the reason why they try to do everything to control athletes and prevent them from getting involved. How many collegiate teams are banned from Twitter and how many times are we being told not to post anything controversial? I personally got in trouble with the sports media director of my former school for Tweeting a quote of my head coach who said:” You are here to play tennis, I don’t care about your classes.” This was the truth and I was asked to take it down immediately, because “what if reporters will see”. Well, if nobody will see or know how can we change things and get college coaches to treat us like students first? How can we make a change if we keep silent?
Doing research about this topic I was amazed with the bravery of the athletes that got in trouble and made sacrifices for the benefit of future generations. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe,1968 Olympics Black Power Slute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos… All of those people made an impact to stop racism not only in sports, but in the society in general. Not to say that racism is gone, because it is not…But because the greats from the past were brave enough to speak up…

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Athletes today do not have to go to jail or lose their job for speaking the truth. Yes, they are still being criticized and called “dumb jocks” that should just “shut up and play”. Every one of the pictures showed below, received criticism from some fans and reporters, but they also made headlines and they raised people’s attention to the things that are going on in society.
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Going back to our original article, it is sad to see that ESPN talk show hosts made comments like they did, but at the same time look at the reaction of the coach and the NFL representative. They respected players’ rights to voice their opinions and did not punish them despite of what the opposition said. This gives us hope that maybe one day athletes will be free to talk about what they want and they will not be seen as “dumb jocks.” One day people will look at what the athletes have to offer outside the game, rather than stereotyping and expecting every athlete to commit crimes, cheat on wives and party. If we want them to be role models, we should at least respect what they have to say, no matter which side they take.

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I m good.

Ever since I moved to Miami and enrolled in FIU I v heard people say a lot of interesting things about myself, and everyone seems to be really interested in what is going on with my life. Apparently all I do is party (been to a club 5 times in a year,woah!) and chill on the beach. I am doing nothing but vacationing in Miami and being bad influence on people. Getting a whole bunch of Conference honors, like C-USA 1st team in both singles and doubles, Newcomer of the Year, Outstanding Player of the Championship and Player of the Week, coupled up with 4.o GPA in Graduate School obviously come by just partying all day. Its amazing how people think that way, and I m not going to try to prove them otherwise. Success speaks for itself, and if you think I do nothing to get all of that…looks like I m genius, thank you very much!

6vU22RPgVjAI v been asked what I am going to do next, now that I am done with college tennis. First, I still have to finish my degree in December, and other than that…I got no plans. Yep. No definite plan. I have so many amazing ideas and plans from A to Z, that honestly I don’t have to settle down for one right now. When I was in Undergraduate school I decided to take GRE and get into Master’s program 2 weeks before graduation, and guess what? It worked out perfectly. The only goal I am going to stick with is to be happy. I believe that when you stop caring too much about what society expects from you and do what you want, then you will be happy. And that’s what matters at the end of the day. Maybe I will decide to go back on tour and you ll see me on TV, maybe I go work at Silicon Valley and make millions, maybe I drop a hot new mix-tape…You never know whats gonna be the next inspiration. All I know is that going with the flow and staying true to myself got me to where I am now, and I am happy, so I ll stick to this plan. Just gonna go listen to Bob Marley, eat some watermelon, and to all those that get mad at my optimism: Don’t worry, be happy!🙂

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How to become a student-athlete in U.S

As weird as it sounds and feels, I am finishing my last semester as a student-athlete right now. It feels like just yesterday I as choosing a college in America and had no idea what college tennis was all about. I was thrown into that world and had to figure out how the system works, just like most international students. While American tennis players are planning which university they want to go to since like middle school, most international kids make a decision to come to U.S last moment and choose the school based on which coach contacted them first. There are a lot of things I wish I knew about recruiting process, rankings, schools and what it means to be a student-athlete overall. It is hard to find out those things from unbiased sources, because most coaches will tell you only what you want to hear, and what will make you commit to their program. In this post I will explain the process of getting admitted and choosing a school for those that might still be unsure of what to do. And next time I get a free minute, I will try to talk more about the things freshmen might need to know and be ready for when they get to a U.S college. Here it goes!

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1.So what is it all about…

You are a good player, you participated in ITF tournaments, had some impressive results and national ranking, so as your high school graduation date is approaching you become bombarded with e-mails from coaches. Chances are, you never heard of the whole scholarship system before and you are not sure what all these people want from you. That was my thinking, when I was first contacted by a college coach at the age of 16.

The way it works is pretty simple and cool. There are tons of Universities in America and most of them have athletic teams with athletes on scholarships. Women’s tennis teams can provide up to 8 full scholarships to talented young women, who would represent their team and commit to 20 hour week practice schedule, accompanied by study hall, travels and other duties of a student-athlete. Full scholarship means that you don’t have to pay anything for your education. Usually, you get your tuition paid, free books, tutoring, place to live and an unlimited meal plan in a local cafeteria. Every school provides their athletes with free gear, such as racquets, shoes, strings, clothing and so on. The amount of things you get heavily depends on the school you end up going to. Big universities with rich athletic programs really give their athletes A LOT. My first school was considered one of the medium-big programs and I got piles of t-shirts and athletic outfits every season. Some schools are low on budget and they might even ask you to buy your own shoes or give you just one pair per year. Good way to find out about those things is to ask the coach. Just ask for detailed information about what is included in your scholarship and also any specific things you might be interested in. Are you going to share a room in the dorms, will you get free massages? We all have things that we care about more than others, and if you really do your research, you will most likely find a school that will give you what you want.

Basically, you will spend 4 years, living in U.S, getting free education and training for free. Sounds pretty good, right?

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2.Okay, I’m in! So what is the next step?!

If you have already talked to some college coaches they probably told you that you must take the tests in order to be admitted to school. Most schools require international students to take TOEFL test to prove that your English us good enough. Go to http://www.ets.org/toefl and check out the nearest test center location to you and the dates of testing. You can’t just take the test on any day that you like, so its good to register ahead of time and then start preparation. Same goes for the second mandatory test SAT and you can get all the info and register for it here: http://sat.collegeboard.org/home

Some people go to special preparation courses, some buy self-preparation books or hire tutors for those tests. Personally, I only had to take SAT and did not get ready for it whatsoever. The requirements for those tests for student-athletes are pretty low if you have good grades in high school, so it is not rocket science and you can pass if you are comfortable with English language. For people that had a strong math program in high school (pretty much every foreign student) it’s wise to focus on math section and get a high score there. I dropped out of school after 9th grade in Russia and it was still easy for me. Just learn the English math terms, so you can understand the questions and you ll be good to go. As for English part of the test…all preparation textbooks will suggest you learn about 3000 new super complicated words that you will never use in your life… just for the test…Honestly I did not learn any of them. If you can speak English and understand well, you can try to guess the meaning by context of the sentences…If you are genius and can learn all those words, go for it! My advice would be, no matter how good or bad your English is, take the test as early as possible to see how it goes. There is a good chance you will have to retake it, even if you thought you learned it all. Don’t take test last minute before coming to school and after a few tries you will surely pass and end up in a school of your dreams.

Besides the academic tests, you will have to register for NCAA Eligibility Center, which is a pain in the butt, lots of questions and forms, but…you have to do it. So go ahead and register right here: http://web1.ncaa.org/ECWR2/NCAA_EMS/NCAA.jsp and follow instructions. Your future coach will help you with the process too.

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3.So how to choose that coach and the best school?

That’s a tough one. To start the search for a school, you need to realistically evaluate your level. To be playing in the Top 20 Division 1 School you have to have a lot of experience in juniors, be highly ranked nationally or be ranked in top 500-600 ITF juniors or have WTA ranking. None of that guarantees a scholarship in those schools, as well as having no ranking because you had no money to travel doesn’t mean nobody will look at you. Coaches look at your results and at your recruiting video which they will ask you to send them. So if they see you are an amazing player with no ranking, you still got a shot. So make sure your recruiting video is on point, shows all the shots, and has good quality and preferably some point play with a good partner. To play at that level you also need to be willing to commit to hard daily practices, little free time and lots of pressure from the coach. If you are a great player, but want to focus more on school and have a good social life, you might want to consider lower ranked schools, where there will be less focus on tennis. Generally, any Division 1 ranked school will get you pretty intense practices and decent hitting partners. There are 6-10 players on the team and usually even low ranked always have one or two good solid players. I will talk more about the format of play and differences between number 1 and number 6 playing position next time

Most competitive schools are in Division 1 and Division 2. Division 2 is generally easier to get into because eligibility rules are different and their scholarship system is also different. There you might get only half of your tuition paid for, it all depends on the arrangements with the coach and your level of play. Top ranked teams in Division 2 are very competitive and have plenty of players who had WTA ranking before, so don’t just assume that Division 1 is always better. In Division 1, however, if you are a girl and was offered a scholarship, it is always a full scholarship. Unfortunately, for guys its different, they rarely get full scholarships and still have to pay something out of their pocket. To find out how good is the school that contacted you and what division they belong to, you can check ITA rankings right here: http://www.itatennis.com/awardsandrankings/rankings.htm  Many schools have no ranking, and if it is an unranked Division 1 school they might still be pretty good. Unranked schools from other divisions- not so much.

When I decided to go to college, I knew I wanted to play in a top-20 program and I simply opened the rankings and e-mailed all top-20 schools on the list that I liked. Worked for me!🙂

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4.But how do you REALLY pick the right school?

Rankings and levels aside, the most important thing is to love your university, your team and feel at home. You might have decided to go to top-10 school and cannot chose between 3 different options, or you might just want to have a place with the Engineering program and you don’t really care about rankings. First things first- chose where you want to be. Yes, it does matter. If you are in love with snow and cold winters, there is no way you should be stuck in Florida for 4 years. If you are like me, and hate any weather below 20 degrees Celsius, then you should not be looking at schools in New York and Chicago. Some people don’t care much, but I think location of the school is really important. How close is it to the airport, is it in the middle of nowhere or is it in the city, what is the weather, do you have to stock up on Uggs or flip-flops? Those are important questions. Because if you have no car and love beach, but you are stuck in the middle of a cold village with no public transportation… you will be miserable, and we don’t want that. Sit down and think of your dream place to be. What are the most important criteria for you? Now you can go through the list of schools in the rankings and pick ones that meet that criteria. What major do you want to have? Chances are you have no clue just yet, and that’s fine. But if you have something specific in mind you need to make sure that the school you are looking at has what you need. You can easily check that online on the school website, or a site that has reviews for schools, such as: https://colleges.niche.com/ . That’s the site I used and it gave me a lot of information about student life in schools that I was looking at, before even talking to coaches.

Another advice about picking a school: If you have the level to play in good schools, don’t settle for less. If you always had a dream to live in LA, go ahead and pick a school in LA. This is your chance to live 4 years for free in a place of your choice, make the most out of it!

5.So you narrowed your search down to 4-5 schools you like. All coaches are willing to give you a scholarship and are trying to persuade you to come. What to do?

Answer is simple. If you already checked the location of the place, made sure the scholarship will get you everything you need, coach seems nice, the school has your major and you passed all the test requirements for admission…Make an official visit! You might not know this, but most schools will pay for you to come visit them for a couple days so that you can get a feel of what it’s like to be a student there. You will get free transportation to the place, free hotel, meals and entertainment. You will get to meet the team and coaches and see if they are really as great as they seemed through the e-mails. I never took an official visit to my first school and I regret it. Not because I would have chosen a different place to go, but because I wouldn’t be so lost my first days of school when I got there for the fall semester. I came to visit my current school and I loved it so much, I couldn’t wait to come! When I did, I already knew where the store was and how to get from dorm to courts that took a lot of stress away!

You are allowed to visit up to 5 schools, if I am not mistaken, so take advantage of that opportunity. I don’t mean that you should visit random schools that you have no intention of attending, but if you have any doubt between a few places, the official visit will definitely help you make the decision. And even if you know for sure where you want to go, the visit still won’t hurt to get familiar with the place and meet your future team.

6.You chose your school and your school chose you! What’s left?

Now that you told the coach you are committing to his school and he confirmed that he is giving you a scholarship, you will get an exciting letter in your mail. National Intent Letter is something you sign to make it officially official. Americans usually sign it in front of family and high school coaches and take pictures, making it a memorable ceremony. I will suggest you take a picture of yourself signing too. Put on your school hat or jersey and smile for the camera. This will be a great photo for your new school’s website to tell everybody that they signed a gem like you and also makes a great way to announce your bright future on Instagram and Facebook.  Next up you will have to sign and fill out a thousand of boring papers and eventually receive your I-20 from the school, which will be your key to getting a student visa. You will know that all the hours of boring paperwork were totally worth it when you have your bags packed and headed to the school of your dreams!

Till next time!

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-Yana

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The Wonder Woman

Generally, I am not a person who shows emotion left and right, but somebody manages to piss me off, things get real. I go from quiet and chill to ghetto mad Russian real quick, even though that happens once in a blue moon. One day we were at a tournament trip with my former coach and something got me fired up. Coach, who was always extremely classy and polite, tried to calm me down, giving a million logical reasons why I should let go off the issue. I don’t remember what it was, but I was furious about some injustice and was not going to let go that easy. Coach ran out of arguments and admitted I was right, but since there was nothing we could do anyways, she gave me what she thought was a good advice: “Just think what your grandma would do!” Good one. Except, coach has never seen my grandma when she is furious.  -“Coach, grandma would high five me on that one..”

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People often ask me who I am more like, my mom or my dad, but truth be told its neither one of them. Grandma is the one that I can identify with the most. She practically raised me since I was 5, so even though I used to deny it when I was younger, she was the one person I always looked up to the most. She is the strongest woman I know.

Grandma always manages to be incredibly nice and helpful to people, but at the same time does not take crap from nobody. She have been through a lot in life, but you can never really tell. She worked so much in her life, but people think she looks like an actress. She was offered to be on a university team for track and field and get an education, but never did because she had to start working at 14 and support her family. I am doing my Masters now, but even in grad school I have never met anybody more intelligent than grandma, who never even went to school. She reads books all night, knows answers to all crosswords and doesn’t even touch Sudoku puzzle unless they are of super advanced levels. Even with all that, she never makes anybody feel like she is above them. Heck, she can keep a conversation about theatre and classical books with professors and then grab a beer and gossip with me.

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There isn’t really a thing about me that doesn’t have her footprint on it. When I was a five year old careless child, she was the one to force me to stop playing with toys and learn my English dialogues. We would be on a bus on the way to tennis and she would read those with me until I memorized every word. She woke me up in the mornings, when I did not want to get up and go practice. She yelled at me more than anybody, but still managed to have my outmost love and respect. When I had injury after injury and couldn’t win a match, she taught me that nothing is impossible and believed in me more than I believed in myself. At the tournaments she would be the one to kick my ass after a bad loss, but also the one to calm me down when I was crying and hopeless. When parents and coaches didn’t think I could go play in WTA, she just flew to Peru with me and watched me prove everyone wrong. When I reached my first professional tournament title, she was there sitting near my bench, shaking like a palm tree during a hurricane in Florida…telling me to calm down and play my game.

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I wouldn’t be the same person right now without tennis and English, not even close…But now I see that there was something bigger, that my grandma taught me. It’s something that is hard to see, it’s the way you treat people, the way you build your relationships, the way you give back and love people. She would never accept help or gifts from others, unless she could give something back later. That was always the rule in our house: If somebody helped you, you remember it and return the favor. At the same time you don’t ever help people expecting something in return. You do it because this is the right thing to do, because that’s what you want to do. We never had much, but if we had guests over, she would make a cake or pies from the last flour in the house. Mom and grandma always kept all the toys in the house and gave it to poor kids in the yard, I even got upset a couple times, when I saw all my toys gone one day.

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Grandma taught me that happiness is not about money, it is about people that you have around and how you go about using what you have. We were always on the budget and she would go to the store 2-3 times a day just to find if they put out fruits on discount, so I could get some vitamins. She made the most delicious food even if there was no food in the fridge, she always found a way to make it happen for people she loved, even if that meant skipping a meal herself. I saw that, and when I could, surprised her with her favorite Russian candy, potato chips and new super advanced Sudoku puzzles. She never lectured me about any of that, just showed by example.  The unconditional love she has for me, through good and bad, still having my back, the way she was with my grandfather…I was only 10 when he died, but I remember how she was right by his side until the end. They would break dishes, he would get drunk and she would yell and help him get home up the stairs. He might have gotten into fights at the streets, but she was the boss for him, he loved her so much. I still remember those days and that’s the only I know is right. No TV star couples can ever compare to my grandparents and the example they set for me.

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There isn’t really a way to thank grandma for everything she has done for me over all these years…But this fall she will be coming back to Florida, get to eat Florida oranges, chill on South Beach and have an unlimited supply of potato chips. She doesn’t know it yet…but it’s my turn to give back.

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THANK YOU.

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Thank You 2014!!!

I remember first time I ever came to Miami. That day I saw Vin Diesel. Just chilling there in traffic in a car next to ours. It was something like my first week in U.S at 15 years old and I had no idea what was going on. I wanted to order a soup, salad and a main course in Cheesecake Factory, having no idea what American portions look like. I think the size of the salad that I got shocked me more than seeing Vin Diesel.

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When I went to Miami for the second time, first things I saw when we entered hotel were the slot machines of Miccosukee casino. I don’t think I have ever seen so many shiny things in one place. I was still 15 and of f course my crazy self tried to “turn up” while having a 10pm curfew.”Turn up” included an attempt to get free soda, being asked to show id and becoming buddies with the security guy while explaining that “I actually play tennis and I m 15 and I have no interest in playing at casino,just want free Sprite.” Later on I lost all my tennis matches, broke a couple racquets in the process and lost all appetite for about 5 days. All that got me thinking that: a) I don’t want to play junior tournaments ever again b) Miami is crazy.

Third time in Miami we were stuck in traffic all day, were late for Miami Heat game, locked car keys inside, saw LeBron, lost my credit card while getting the best Heat snapback. Point is, every time I went to Miami something funny and crazy happened.

Now I live in Miami and nothing changed- every day here can be characterized as crazy and fun. Even if I wake up in the worst mood possible, I go outside and I can’t stop being amazed by this city. The weather, the air, the people, it all just makes me smile, even on my worst days. I figured that it is not a place where you will have it easy. This is a place where you’ll be surrounded by temptations, you will experience crazy driving, have trouble communicating if you don’t know Spanish, you’ll have your bike stolen and you might as well end up wandering around an area full of bums,with 2 dollars in your pocket.
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But its also the place where you will have the best memories and have fun with or without those 2 dollars. I spent the second part of 2014 studying in grad school at FIU, and I feel like this big move might have been the best decision of my life so far. It just happens that way, that every time I came to Miami I met people that changes my life and taught me life lessons, no matter bad or good. This past half a year was no exception. It would take ages to describe all the awesome people I met here and all the places I have been.VAtIrF8D1sw

This winter break alone was eventful enough to write a book about it. I went on a cruise, visited four different countries in four days, reunited with some of my former teammates, spent hours on public buses, spent some quality time socializing with local bums and biking through ghetto areas of downtown, walked from downtown to South Beach,walked miles in high heels, saw fireworks, ran around the track on a ship…We laughed so much, even the 7-day unlimited food on the ship couldn’t mess with us.

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At midnight of my 22nd birthday I was watching Ninja Turtles under the stars on the top deck of the ship, then came back to cabin to find awesome presents from my favorite people on my bed. Spent the day in Honduras chilling on the beach and trying to get wi-fi connection to see all the birthday messages. That’s also when I found out that I got all A’s for the first semester of grad school. I think I cried like three times that day,which is more than unusual for me. As a reminder of my true self, we would go with Jessy  to the top deck to take pictures every day.

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Then there was the hilarious New Years night with my best friends (some of them physically with me, others drunk texting some memorable congratulations messages). We ate pizza and drank water like total bosses( too bad nobody believes that).January 1st was spent mainly carrying  my shorter other half Tristen around Wynwood and the beach.The stories can go on, and the break is not even over yet. But what I’m trying to say is that I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by friends that I have. We may be broke and have no idea what we are doing, but we end up going on adventures regardless. Bike adventures always take us to interesting places and contribute to the cardio workout by the way🙂

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Anyways, now it probably is a good time to conclude my rant about how awesome my life is. It really isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it storms pretty badly in Miami too. But I just chose to laugh it off and focus on positive things. And I’m very thankful for all the people in my life that made my 2014 filled with those positive moments! Happy New Year!!! J

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Yana.

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The Decision. FIU bound!!!

Its time!
The past 3 years I spent at Clemson and was extremely lucky to meet amazing people who became family,played the sport I love and got a degree from a top University. I will always be extremely thankful for all the memories and people that Clemson gave me! I already miss my team and I will always bleed Orange:)
But now its time to start another chapter in my life. I am thrilled to announce that I have been accepted to Grad school and chosen to use my last year of eligibility to compete while getting my Master’s degree.I have a lot to prove to myself this year and I am thankful to Florida International University and coach Katarina Petrovic for believing in me and letting me go for this one ride!
That being said….I m taking my talents to Miami!(even tho Lebron is not there anymore lol) Can’t wait to get to this crazy city,meet my new teammates and see some of my fav people!!! 

GO FIU!GO Panthers!!!

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