Stella Sampras Webster, the women's head coach at UCLA, who is also the sister of former World No. 1 tennis star Pete Sampras, says becoming a coach at UCLA helped her create her own identity. Sampras Webster is the second-longest tenured active coach at UCLA, and led her team to NCAA titles in 2008 and 2014.
In an interview to the USTA website, Sampras Webster talks about going from the pro tour to coaching at UCLA. "I was on the tour and my coach and the head coach at UCLA [Bill Zaima] were having lunch with me, and he literally just asked me.
He was looking for someone to groom to take over UCLA. This was a year into the tour during the summer, and I felt like I had to make a decision since I thought what a great opportunity it was. I figured I wasn’t going to be Top 100 in the world in singles, but I could probably do pretty well in doubles.
But I felt like the tour wasn’t a great lifestyle that I enjoyed. I spoke with my family about it, and I always wanted to be a teacher. When I decided to go into college coaching, I really didn’t know how long I’d stay.
I wanted to see how I would enjoy it. I was taking classes to get my teaching credential while I was an assistant coach. I just knew that I enjoyed being home and the security of getting a paycheck. I didn’t enjoy traveling and not knowing where I was going to be in the next month.
I was the assistant coach and taking classes, and then I realized how much I really enjoyed being on the court and still competing. I enjoyed the competition part, even though I wasn’t playing and having direct influence on the matches.
I just felt like the competitive part of me enjoyed helping players reach their goals and win their matches and help them through this college journey. Speaking about the highlights of her career as a coach, the 51 year old says, "Bill Zaima had done it all.
But the one thing he had never done as a coach was win the team indoors. That was something we really wanted to get for him, and we did that with him with us. That was such a big thing for him, so I was so happy we were able to get that team championship.
That was very special. He is no longer with us, but he was such a great man, my mentor. He was someone I looked up to, who really gave me an opportunity and trusted me with a great program. I owe so much to him for where I am today.
But some of the best highlights I would say were whenever I had my family with me. The fundraising that we have to do, the administrative work we have to do, the paperwork and expense reports, they are not my favorite parts of the job.
The best part of my job is being on the court with the players. Sampras Webster also adds that being the sister of a tennis legend came with a lot of attention which she did not always enjoy as she wanted to be known for her own achievements, "It’s funny because I always felt UCLA was something I earned.
I earned a spot to play at UCLA, and I didn’t get it because I was his sister. Even my position, I felt like it was my own place. I know in the beginning, when he was No. 1 in the world, I got a lot of recognition just for being his sister and him being this professional tennis player.
So in the beginning it was a little bit more than it is now, but I felt like I got a lot of recognition that I didn’t want or need. I won a national championship. I have done things that he wasn’t really part of, so I felt very good about that.
It was definitely more difficult when I was on the tour and I’d go to these towns and play these pro events. People wanted to talk to me, but I knew it was only because I was his sister. I hadn’t achieved anything on the tour as of that time.
So that was uncomfortable because I’m with my peers and having all these interviews and they’re asking about him. But the whole UCLA thing felt very separate and felt like my own thing versus him being part of it, and I felt good about that.
I talked to my brother Pete about coaching sometimes and asking for advice or things that he would do to prepare for a big tournament or a big event, and he was a great resource for me to bounce things off. I always enjoyed getting his feedback.
I always like to ask questions and find out things from others because I know I don’t know everything and that I can always learn new things from people, so I’ve been very fortunate to have good people to talk to."