USPTA Elite Professional Rhonda Rabanal (Southern California) graduated from UCLA in 2008, just as the economy ground to a halt.
With the job market scarce, her parents suggested she enlist in the military. After all, her father served in the Navy and her two brothers currently serve the Army and Air Force.
“They were just being realistic and presenting my options to me,” Rabanal said. “The route was either I join the Marines or I get a corporate job. I was like, I don’t want to join the Marines, so I’m going to go get a corporate job.”
She soon found work in a host of industries, including sales in Silicon Valley, wealth management and a number of volunteer opportunities. She was successful in the corporate world, but her dream of playing professional tennis kept nagging.
That is, until one day, when it vanished. A car accident left Rabanal temporarily paralyzed from the waist up. She said it was like “a message from the universe.”
“Even though at that moment I knew going pro wasn’t for me, I was like, no, there’s something else here. My heart still wants to be on the court,” she said. “What can I make for myself?”
For about five months as she recovered, Rabanal managed to make it out to local courts around Los Angeles, offering corrections to players. When someone finally suggested she try coaching, Rabanal was reluctant.
“Too many temperaments,” she said. “But then as I started coaching more and more, I realized it was something I could do full-time.”
Five years later, Rabanal successfully manages her own business, Rhonda Tennis, teaching tennis at various courts around LA.
She’s on the court roughly 50 hours a week with students, offering both private and group lessons.
“Youngest was 4, eldest was 73,” she said. “I’m genuinely passionate about teaching anyone who wants to learn.”
Her passion and motivation for teaching is essential to her success as a freelancer, but she insists there’s more to it than that.
“It looks like it’s just me, but just like a tennis player on the court, there is a whole backbone of support. For me, that is my family and my boyfriend, and my friends, of course.”
She finds similar support in her clients. The parents of her younger students are supportive of their children, driving them to and from tennis lessons and buying shoes and racquets. But, importantly, they trust Rabanal.
“It’s me and the parent teaming up to say yes, I trust you to be my son or daughter’s teacher,” she said. “They hire me and I know that I am employed by the public I serve. But there’s absolutely a team component there because there’s no way I’d be able to do this on my own without the support of parents.”
Rabanal has added a new wrinkle to her coaching. Last year, she started as an assistant coach at Marlborough School, an all-girls school in LA. In both her first two years, the varsity team won the Mission League championship.
“It’s more proof that I enjoy the team environment,” she said.
It was also a tremendous learning experience. Team tennis was new for her and working with other coaches helped her see gaps in her own coaching.
Rabanal also finds support through the USPTA mentorship program. She was paired with Elite Professional Amanda Fink, a 2019 USPTA U30 Award recipient from San Diego. Rabanal said the first time she and Fink spoke over the phone was like she “had connected with a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years.”
Her intrinsic motivation cannot be overstated, and she’s always had the support of her loved ones. But Rabanal has seized every opportunity to connect with others – to help them, to learn from them – and to grow the game.
“My BA degree is in anthropology,” Rabanal said. “I found that being able to connect with people on a human level first, tennis second, is one of the backbones of my success. I treat every person as a human and focus on the connection. Everything else is secondary.”