Learn insider tips to improve your tennis game from seasoned international tennis coach Vojna!
Today we have a very special interview with former runner up Albanian tennis champion, Vojna Ngjeqari. Vojna shares with us her experience of what it was like playing tennis professionally in Albania, coaching tennis, working for the UN and coaching Syrian refugees tennis in Austria.
Vojna and I first met in the summer of 2017 at the I Am Tomorrow conference where she was a guest speaker on a panel of entrepreneurs advocating for female empowerment. I am delighted to bring you this interview with Vojna, her story is unusual and inspiring.
Q: At what age did you start playing tennis?
A: I started at the age of 7 in Tiran, Albania.
Q: When did you start to play professionally?
A: At the age of 7 my brother and I started with the purpose of playing professionally. My father had that vision for me and my brother. We shared this vision together.
Q: What did you do to prepare yourself mentally for tournaments? Can you give our readers some tips on things they can do and things they can avoid doing before a big tennis match.
A: Well, during that time nothing consciously. We were trained on technique tactics but not sport psychology. Some of my mental preparations came from my father who pushed me very hard, telling me I had to win each and every match.
Now I still play tennis for Austria Landesliga B and some of my mental practices include:
- Meditating with Oprah and Choprah Challenge for 21 days in Youtube. This exercise is helping me to learn how to meditate and develop a selective focus.
- Jack Canfield teaches visualisation techniques that Olympic players use. His videos on youtube have helped me frame my desires and outcomes in a positive way.
- I read about strategy and the importance of a game plan from otimumtennis.net and mental-austria.com. Learning about the game plan has enhanced my perception of the game and understanding me and my opponent better. When you know better, you do better ;)
Q: Tell us about what it was like growing up in Albania and playing tennis professionally. Did you have support from your family?
A: The support from my family was 100%. They followed my brother and I every step of the way and came to every match. However, becoming an athlete in Albania is quite challenging. Even though we represented our country internationally, the federation never paid my brother and I for competing. We developed our tennis careers however we questioned at the same time whether it was the right decision since we couldn’t make a living from this sport.
Q: You are a tennis coach for Syrian refugees in Vienna, can you tell us about what your experience has been like? What do you enjoy most about coaching?
A: I moved to Vienna to pursue my Bachelor at the age of 20 and started coaching tennis part-time. Tennis was one of the tools and gates for me to interact and integrate to the Austrian society and that opened amazing opportunities for me and make a living. I want to do the same for other children with migration background. I see myself and my story in them.
Coaching children with migration background started as a response to the Syrian crisis and welcoming refugees in Vienna in 2015 through the Lets Tennis initiative. For this year I am initiating and working closer with Caritas to lunch another tennis programs for this children. Stay tuned! Donation are welcomed!
Coaching children refugees is for me as I would coach a future Sharapova, Serena Williams, Nadal. It is tough, challenging, and a lot of fun. In first place, what I enjoy the most is contributing and developing children’s morality through tennis games and exercise. No matter how many opportunities I create for them, their attitude to opportunities will shape their future. Hence, creating, inventing, playing games that shape moral identity, moral reasoning, managing destructive emotions, social skills etc. Secondly, I enjoy creating opportunities for them to unleash their potential. I coach them in a way that I always wished for myself.
Q: From being a pro tennis player to working at the UN and speaking in conferences all over Europe on advocating for female empowerment, you have had a very interesting and impressive career. Do you feel that playing tennis competitively has helped you with your mindset and strategy throughout these areas in your career? And in what way?
A: Yes, and here’s why:
Need to compete & creative energy
Firstly, the need and will to compete follows me all the time. This will is very creative and guides me on finding ways to create and serve my environment and community.
- Playing to my strengths
Recognising my strength in a tennis match and get the maximum leverage of these strengths by smartly managing the weakness is one way closer to win the games. The same strategy applies when I write a business plan, pitch an idea, or talk to a team.
- Critical Thinking
In order to win the next point during the game it’s important to analyse the previous situation and make adjustments.
This is a lesson of vigilance: the need to be hyper-alert to the world around me in order to craft a winning proposition in whatever I choose to pursue.
- Raise above my circumstances
It is 4:0 for the opponent. What to do in this situation? In tennis you have the power to change the circumstances if used properly. Raising to the challenge of the moment, and finding ways to prevail with integrity can change the course of the game. Like in tennis, there were moments in my family when we were not able financially to help each other, so utilising the resources made available to me in those circumstances helped me to win some of life’s games.
Q: From playing in tennis tournaments to speaking in conferences, have you ever felt nervous before these events? Can you share with our readers some tips on how to remain calm before playing in a tennis match?
A: Before every important tennis match I usually shake. Before any event I am very excited. I love public speaking and the stage. One way I remain calm is focussing on every cell of the body to warm up and feeling it whether is or is not well warmed up and smile. I always say to my students “The will to do something should be greater than the fear”.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to create your tennis app Sportfish? How do you envision it transforming the way coaches work?
A: Now that I coach in Vienna in three different clubs, I needed for to digitalise for myself the paperwork I do with the tennis children and the parents. I needed this app for my daily work to manage and communicate in one channel with my students. The previous app I used was not good enough and whatsapp didn’t quite work.
Sportfish will simplify the way coaches manage and communicate with their student using the latest technology.
Q: What’s the thing you love most about tennis?
A: Raising above the circumstances. Self-talk during the game. I like to compete with other women.
Q: Which tennis player has inspired you the most and why?
- Martina Hingis was the only player that would bring me to tears when she lost. She showed her character during the game. Her game was very tactical.
I loved when she would start arguing for a point with the arbitrary. Watching a female player standing for her point and speaking loud her opinions during the game in a full arena and with thousand auditors, it just had such an impact on me.
- Billie Jean King is an icon and influencer of voicing women´s right in sport and advocating for equal pay of women in sport.
- Serena Williams – I had the chance to follow her online masterclass, I’ve watched all of her interviews as well as her documentary Being Serena.
Everything she says is so powerful to me and has helped me in my self- development journey. Watching Serena and how she overcame body-shaming and turned it into her advantage, this has been extremely inspiring to me. All the black African American little girls that I have coached know her and they identify themselves with her, they see her as a role model here in Austria. I see the amount of hope and how Serena has inspired change in many of my student during my tennis hours.