Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Alison Baker is a former collegiate tennis player out of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. During her career, Baker was a 3x MIAC All-Conference player in Singles and Doubles while also competing in the NCAA National Tennis Tournament three out of the four years she played! She is currently the Program and Engagement Coordinator at TennisWorks where she works to close the opportunity gap and inspire underserved youth to seek success in all aspects of life.
How did you first get started with tennis?
My older brother started playing and I always wanted to be just like him, so I picked up my first tennis racquet in seventh grade. My first lessons were actually at the place where I now work, Fred Wells and Tennis Education Center, affectionately known as The Fort. It’s a special place!
How has tennis shaped your life outside of the court?
Tennis is a unique sport in that you are your own referee. You make your own line calls, you keep track of the score, and you have to be able to settle any disputes with your opponent on your own. I think some people take advantage of those circumstances and cheat their opponents when the match gets tight. But for me, it’s about integrity, honor, and sportsmanship, and I think I have carried those traits off the court with me.
Who is your current role model and why do you look up to them?
Michelle Obama! 100% Michelle Obama. I had the privilege of seeing her speak for her Becoming book tour (best day of my life). She’s always been an advocate for investing in girls’ education, and I’m a firm believer in the power of education as well. She’s the most impactful public speaker I’ve ever heard. She’s authentic and empowering. I could talk about her all day long. I think there’s also something to be said about the grace and resilience with which she navigated being the first Black First Lady. People were so cruel to her and she never stooped to their level. “When they go low, we go high.” She’s a role model for young girls of color everywhere. And if you can see her, you can be her!
If you could achieve anything you wished for within the tennis industry, what would it be?
More accessibility. Tennis is expensive! Historically, it’s been a sport for wealthy people. At The Fort, we strive to make tennis more accessible by offering tennis and life skills development opportunities to youth from under-resourced communities so that they can be successful on and off the court. I wish every tennis facility and organization would make this their mission as well!
What does “love ourselves” mean to you as a female athlete?
A big part of loving myself as a female athlete is fueling my body properly.
In college, I used to purposely restrict my food intake after tough practices because I thought that it would give me the slim, "ideal" athlete's body. While I may have lost a little bit of weight, I was preventing my body from recovering properly and that led to mood swings (which led to being a bad teammate), depression, fatigue, and injuries.It's something I'm still working on.
I imagine it will be a lifelong learning curve since being an athlete is still a huge part of my identity. When I'm struggling to love and take care of my body, I often think about having a daughter in the future: What advice would I give her if she was feeling this kind of pressure? Of course I would tell her to take care of herself and love her body for all that it allows her to do. And then I realize I am deserving of that grace and acceptance too.
Have you ever been judged on appearance rather than your ability?
Yes. I think I’m not taken seriously as a coach by some people because I look young for my age. I’ve also been sexualized in both competitive and coaching settings.
I’ve had people dismiss my coaching and instead comment on my appearance. I’ve even been called a “blonde Barbie” by an adult player behind my back. Those kinds of comments completely undermine my passion for teaching and learning the sport.
Luckily, everywhere I’ve coached or played, I’ve had one or two really awesome allies who’ve had my back in those situations. I can think of one instance in particular when an adult player made a public, inappropriate comment about me while I was roll-drying a court. I was too stunned and embarrassed to respond, so one of my male coworkers approached the player immediately and told him his comment was unacceptable. Then, this coworker came and checked in with me to see how I was feeling. That kind of trust, support, and allyship is crucial between teammates and coworkers.