YLC Blog: Women's History Month - A Conversation with Joslynn Burkett - USTA Southern California




Joslynn Burkett



APRIL 1, 2024

Joslynn Burkett


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Women’s History Month is about the Amelia Earharts and the Jane Austens of the world, the Frida Kahlos and the Billie Jean Kings, but it’s also about every woman who’s brought passion or determination into everything she does, every woman who’s made a difference in whatever way, even if she isn’t known and lauded worldwide. As March comes to a close and Women’s History Month along with it, I asked a dear former coach of mine if she’d be amenable to being interviewed in the interest of celebrating women and their accomplishments through her own experiences in tennis and beyond.

Sitting across from me at a little coffee shop, Joslynn Burkett nursed a drink and a blueberry muffin, wearing a shirt that I later realized (to much delight) read: “Everyone watches women’s sports.”

I always knew Joslynn as the coach who would push me to be my best self on the court, the coach who would tell me when I had to do better and the coach who would celebrate my wins like they were her own. I also knew Joslynn the person, especially after she left coaching: Joslynn the reader who would give me book recommendations; Joslynn the interested who would ask me about my tennis, my school, my life.

To give the unacquainted reader a very basic view of Joslynn through her life and accomplishments, she played college tennis at Arizona State University, receiving a degree in kinesiology while there. She went on to coach tennis for eighteen years, holding positions with the USTA, La Jolla Country Day School and Cal State Fullerton. She later left the sport to work in the philanthropy office of La Jolla Country Day in San Diego, specifically focusing on fundraising and helping people all the while.

She started playing tennis at the age of three or four, learning the sport through a Danish tennis player at San Diego State, a friend of her family who stuck a tennis racquet in her hand and allowed her to swing the racquet around with the rest of the team after practices or even matches.

“I was that little baby that hangs out at the tennis courts,” she said, laughing, after I asked her if she was akin to the team’s mascot.

As for how she became invested enough in the sport to pursue it competitively, she said a lot of it was a natural progression for her.

“I just liked to compete as a kid, and my parents didn’t really know what they were doing, but they kept on listening to advice from other coaches, and they just went with it,” she said. She feels that it was an easy transition from learning the game to competing, gradually going on to increasingly challenging tournaments until she found herself with a pretty good ranking, ready to go off to college.

After college, she started coaching because she needed financial backing to support her plans to pursue professional tennis for a small amount of time. Though she spent a summer gathering funds to travel to Europe, her doubles partner got injured, and she ultimately did not follow that path.

Luckily, as she said, “I kind of fell in love with coaching.” She feels that a lot was given to her growing up, and though her parents couldn’t necessarily afford everything, that didn’t stop her coach from putting in the same time and effort.

“I felt by coming back I could give that same opportunity to other players,” she said. She associates this need to give back through coaching with her current work in philanthropy as well.

Growing up, Joslynn was exposed to all sorts of different sports, and she had idols that were both men and women. She never really noticed much of a difference between how boys and girls were treated in sports: she trained with both and felt respected by both, being judged by her work ethic and competitiveness in athletics rather than her gender.

“If you would’ve asked me as a child, who was your idol, it was Steffi Graf and Boris Becker,” she said. “Both.”

In modern day, though not always for bad, she feels as though a lot of the dialogue can be centered around male tennis players, especially in an environment heavily made up of male coaching staff.

She points out that “even the internet fails you a little bit” — a year ago, if you would’ve googled who had the most Grand Slam wins, you would’ve been told it was Federer or Nadal or Djokovic, when in reality it was Margaret Court, then Serena Williams, and then Steffi Graf. Though this changed in the past year because of Djokovic, there’s still an evident difference in acknowledgement of male and female players.

Joslynn added, “If men are idolizing other men, and if they are also the coaches, then you’re just going to be looking up to a lot of male tennis players, not realizing that there is a whole other side that has done an immense amount for the sport.”

There’s another aspect of this in sports media, where women athletes are less appreciated simply because they’re reported on less. “Iga [Swiatek] has a great storyline, she probably just doesn’t get the attention she should,” said Joslynn. “She’ll go on these winning streaks which are phenomenal, but if you don’t report on it then sometimes the audience doesn’t know what they should be paying attention to.”

When Joslynn first started coaching, she was at La Jolla Country Day, focusing on tennis for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade along with high school teams. “That was a lot of fun for me, getting to coach both the men and the women’s team. And I wasn’t going to let my gender have an effect on either one,” said Joslynn. “I wanted to prove that a woman could coach both, very successfully.” In that position, she was able to lead each team to win CIF titles four times — dead equal results by gender.

Joslynn speaks of hearing, over and over, specific tennis institutions asking for women coaches or describing a need for women coaches. She was always curious as to why, finally landing on the only answer she was given: somebody needs to coach the girls.

“I’m like, one, men can coach girls. Men can coach boys. And women can coach girls and women can coach boys. There shouldn’t be a difference there, in my opinion,” she said. Though there may be differing comfort levels, and there may be positive aspects of girls being coached by women coaches, she still doesn’t believe players or coaches should be separated in this way. She added, “My whole career, as a player, as a coach, I have never found that you can’t equally coach both genders.”

She also emphasizes a need for equal respect on the court. “As a female coach I want to make sure the girls are getting the same amount of attention, that we are focusing just on tennis, that the focus doesn’t stray onto anything else,” she said.

That idea of “anything else” may pertain to the conversations that girls find themselves subject to more often than boys, particularly topics concerning weight or body type. “As a female, we’ve all experienced it, it doesn’t really matter what our body type is, there’s always going to be a comment made, so you’re very cognizant,” said Joslynn. “There’s just healthier ways of talking about certain things, too,” she added.

She connects this idea to stories and experiences of sexual harassment. “As a female you want to be able to call that out, and you’re hoping that you’re working with men or for men who want to be reminded that oh, that comment is bad, and unfortunately in too many cases that’s just seen as a threat.”

She continued, “It’s not necessarily about punishing people right away but just being willing to change, to know when to listen.”

As an athlete, Joslynn feels that Women’s History Month is a good time to remind ourselves that sports are where they’re at in a lot of regards because of women. She pinpoints Billie Jean King as one of the “greatest athletes of all time” because she revolutionized sports in general, changing standards “across the board for both men and women, black and white, race, gender, everything.”

“I get to look at banners, at the school I’m at,” she said, describing the signs on the tennis court fences where she works. “The men’s banners start in the ‘60s, but the women’s banners don’t start until the ‘80s, and you’re like, what happened: well, that was Title IX right there.”

She added, “That’s really cool, it gives me goosebumps. And It never took away from men’s sports — in fact, there’s more money in sports now than ever before.” Evidently, women are a significant part of that, and we have women to continue to look to as tennis takes on new heights in the future: women like Billie Jean King yet also women like Joslynn, like the up-and-coming juniors and college players and professionals just starting to make their mark on the world, to share in the glory of making a difference.


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