The Journey Of Olivia Manson: From Summer Camp To Competitive Tennis Tournaments
Olivia Manson’s parents weren’t aiming to make their daughter a tennis star. They were simply doing what most parents do, enrolling their daughter in a summer camp to keep her active and entertained.
Their goal was a familiar one. They just wanted to keep their four-year-old from crying when they dropped her off.
In fact, the thought of competitive tennis was the furthest thing from Larry Manson’s mind during those early days of tennis camp. Olivia’s educational path and the quality of her education had always been a priority for her family. Larry’s own educational background included attendance at boarding school and then graduating on to degree completion at both Princeton and Columbia Universities. He wanted to ensure Olivia had the opportunity to continue the same educational legacy and attend the top-rated school or college of her choice.
Competitive tennis wasn’t even on our radar,” Larry says.
Olivia not only made it a full day at tennis camp and loved it – she kept playing. By grade six, she knew the sport was more than just a hobby. It became her passion and allowed her to focus on an outlet whenever changes happened in school and life.
Olivia continued building her tennis skills, quickly getting to the point where she felt like she was not being challenged enough, hitting a plateau.
Practice was comfortable. My dream was to compete at a higher level and for bigger stakes,” she says.
Olivia’s focus shifted from local tennis lessons a few times a week to full-time training at a top-rated tennis facility in Florida. There, she could train with like-minded peers who shared her passion for the sport. Being around other competitive tennis players was important to Olivia – not only to advance her game but to have friends who understood her busy training schedule.
It’s hard when your friends don’t have the same goals or mentality,” explains Olivia. “For example, they don’t understand why you can’t come to a sleepover because you have to get up the early next morning to go to practice.”
Olivia continued to train, compete in matches, and travel to competitions throughout the county with her tennis dreams in mind.
Soon, her father founded Junior Tennis All-Stars, a nonprofit providing high-performance tennis training and competition opportunities for girls like Olivia. It has since expanded to include options for boys playing tennis.
The Perfect Pair
After its founding, Olivia and her dad competed through Junior Tennis All-Stars. They traveled with other tennis players to camps on college campuses such as Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Stanford. While on one of these trips, Larry started to see Laurel Springs School listed as the alma mater for women tennis players at Stanford. But he wondered why their home locations were not always the same.
I was trying to figure out how a school could have campuses across the country,” Larry explains.
After learning more about the school — and its online model that allows students to study from anywhere — they decided LSS was a perfect fit. Olivia enrolled in Spring 2019 to begin coursework that summer. She is scheduled to graduate in 2024.
Olivia had previously attended a brick-and-mortar private school in Chicago. Through LSS, the Mansons decreased the cost of education to one-fifth of the expense, giving Olivia increased flexibility to learn, train, and compete. Her father took tennis a step further with a collaboration between the Junior Tennis All-Stars and LSS, as he sees the role LSS can play in the goals of “other Olivias.”
LSS’s flexible schedule helps fit all Olivia’s coursework into her rigorous schedule. She has to balance her school work and training program, and competition schedules. She spends at least four hours a day training. This includes court- and drill-work, practicing matches, and strength training. She also focuses on nutrition to make sure her meals have protein, pasta, fruits, and veggies. She also works on cutting out excess sugar, which she can attribute to increased anxiety before her matches.
Her training goal in Florida recently became a reality as she and her father relocated from Chicago to Boca Raton, Florida. She will now train with her coach, Aaron Mabra, at Evert Tennis Academy. However, while other tennis players receive their education at the facility, Olivia will continue to attend LSS for her coursework.
Through LSS, Olivia has been able to prepare for college at such a young age.
I started contact with my college counselor my freshman year, and I had already planned my AP courses for the rest of my high school career as well as becoming an eligible NCAA D1 and D2 athlete,” she said.
This close relationship and opportunity are very unique for high school students. While LSS has allowed Manson to focus on the individual sport of tennis, she knows that also translates into her individual work and academic journey.
The responsibility and accountability as an LSS student prepare you for dealing with situations on your own,” she said. “Though we do collaborate with peers, you are in control of your future, the classes you want to take, and clubs you join. Your academic journey is in your own hands.”
Perseverance and Support
Olivia says she didn’t like tennis at first, but her parents kept encouraging her to continue. She also tried other sports, including ballet, soccer, and swimming, but later quit them. Even now, there are times Olivia has felt like giving up tennis. The COVID-19 pandemic was very hard for her as she didn’t have her routine or training.
My life had completely centered around tennis,” she says. “When you don’t have that, life is taken away, and what do you do?”
She savored the small moments that helped her stay motivated. She also credits her coach for sharing his prevailing wisdom.
He has a big impact on my life,” she said.
The life of a competitive tennis player, regardless of age, requires a lot of time on the road. Olivia is used to traveling for competitions and will now have to travel home to Chicago, where her mother, Kelli still lives.
No place is home,” she said. “People are my home.”
Her inner circle of support includes two friends who live across the country and help her stay grounded in her parents and coach. Without her mom’s emotional support, “I couldn’t step out on the tennis court,” she said. She recalls how her dad, who works in investment management, has only missed one tournament in all her years of playing.
I’m grateful,” she said. “He has sacrificed so much time.”
Olivia knows that her parents are in her corner, pushing and encouraging her to reach her goals and dreams — whether on the tennis court or at home. Her goal is to play tennis in college with hopes to play professionally one day. As she intertwines school and sports, she reminds others to balance both worlds. “Don’t put huge pressure on yourself. That won’t help school-wise.”
Olivia knows how stress is a large part of a teenager’s life regarding grades and performance.
Maintain your stress levels,” she said. “A lot of what you have are privileges. I just learned that with flying and competing all over. I am still learning that.”