A few weeks ago, we were able to sit down with pro tennis player Kady Pooler. Kady holds a World Ranking in both Singles and Doubles competitions, is a college national champion, and has won professional titles in Germany, Portugal and the Caribbean. She is an all-around inspiring athlete and individual.
As Kady told us the story of her athletic career and transition into entrepreneurship, we learned about the behind-the-scenes events and challenges that led to her personal development and success. Through this, we were able to uncover the truths behind what goes into creating a truly inspiring and memorable athlete brand.
Among other things, we discussed the challenges of being an athlete in today’s world, the importance of branding in athletics, sports marketing strategies for athletes, dogs, traveling, and life in general.
Colman: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. I thought you’d be perfect for the podcast. So, can you tell us a little bit about your story, and where you’re at now?
Tell us a little bit about your story and where you are at today.
Kady Pooler: For sure! The way I think of it is there’s like a lot of long stories that I’ll try to put into one short story. But basically, was born and raised in Southern California, Orange County to be exact. I lived in a small beach town called San Clemente. And then I was the first child to both my parents and pretty much at the age of four started playing tennis. My dad had enrolled me in a class. I really enjoyed it and wanted to keep going, obviously.
Kady Pooler: So I did these group clinics once a week. At the age of seven or eight, I enrolled in my first tournament and actually ended up winning the whole tournament. And I remember that moment really clearly. I remember having my trophy. I remember driving home, holding my trophy in my hand as I laid back in my dad’s passenger seat. And then by age eleven, I had my sights set on going pro. It became my entire life. That’s when I started to play pretty much every single day. I would kind of have to be forced to take a day off and played multiple hours a day. At that time I really envied Steffi Graf, so my game kind of was emulated after her, but also, I wanted to be like her in the sense of I wanted to be number one and I wanted to win grand slams.
Kady Pooler: And the age of twelve, I got my first college scholarship. And at fifteen I had determined really if I was actually going to go pro or go to college. If I was to go pro, obviously I would forego my college eligibility. Luckily, I chose the college route. And I actually skipped a grade when I was younger, so I went to college a little bit earlier. I had just turned seventeen. And I chose Arizona State. Go, devils! And uh, yeah, I joined them. Sheila McInerney was known as being one of the top tennis coaches in college tennis. And they were always ranked in the top twenty-five, so they were a really prestigious and prominent team, but hadn’t really won a national championship or really excelled as one of the top teams. And I wanted to be that person to come to the school and help them to propel to the top.
Kady Pooler: We did pretty decent during my four years there, making it to the Elite Eight at one point. And then my senior year, my doubles partner and I won a national championship, which was, honestly, one of the most memorable experiences in my career. And then after college, I pretty much knew I was gonna go pro. So I actually missed my college graduation to go and play in my first pro tournament, which was in Portugal. I flew off with my tennis bag and a way too big bag stuffed with clothes. I learned the hard way, but I thought I was just going to pack for months and months. And pretty much from there, I embarked. I played on tour for about a year or so all around the world, but spent most of my time in Europe. And then after about a year and a half, my dad took a big decline in his health.
Kady Pooler: He had Parkinson’s Disease. He was diagnosed when I was about twelve years old and my sister had some difficulties with school. So at this point, it was family first and I wanted to go back and be with both of them. And then from there, it sparked a lot of interesting journeys. I went and taught tennis in Hawaii for almost a year to wealthy businessmen and their families, which was a really cool and great experience. And then I coached some junior players. I coached a couple of players that were on tour. I became a teacher at one point. I joined Teach for America. I did a two-year commitment with them in Richmond, California at John F. Kennedy High School, teaching special education and, kind of California special education as an all-inclusive model. I also taught English and math as well. And then I continued being a teacher for two years at a private school called Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa, California.
Kady Pooler: And then I kinda hit a panic moment, which was what am I doing with my life? I have no idea what I want to do or where I’m going. And I quit and I went back to what I knew and what was the easiest thing for me and would look good on a resume, which was pro tennis, after having not played for about four or five years. I actually trained for maybe like two months and went back on tour and played for about a year. And then after that, I ended up coaching college tennis at the University of the Pacific. A friend of mine was running the program there and she’d asked me to come to join her coaching staff, and work with her as I transitioned and figured out what I wanted to do.
Kady Pooler: And then after that, I joined a tech startup in San Francisco called “Keep Trucking”. I was actually at the prequalification for the U.S. Open and I knew this was my last tournament and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. And I’d heard of startups, that they’re kind of cool in terms of how you get to come in and kind of be in a small team, help to build a company, get some equity, and maybe it becomes worth something. So I joined Keep Trucking. I was with them for about two years before moving on to another tech startup that I recently left in April to focus full-time on my business.
Colman: That’s quite an interesting story… What would you say was your favorite place when you went to tournaments?
Kady Pooler: Oh wow. Honestly, people ask that all the time, and it’s difficult to say because I, I’m so cliche in the fact that like, I really liked each place that I went. I mean, not every place, but most of the places I went to in terms of just culture and beauty. So it’s tough for me to say, but I’m going to force myself to pick… honestly, maybe Portugal. The coast was really beautiful and it had a lot of history and culture to it. So that one stands out. And then I also really enjoyed Germany. That’s my heritage and where my mom and my grandmother are from, so kind of my motherland.
Colman: I’m kind of jealous. I’ve been to Mexico one time my whole life, and besides other cities in the country and other states, I haven’t really left. And I and my wife have talked about it, but now that we have a three-month-old, it’s kind of one of those things. We’re kind of waiting on that for a few more years.
Kady Pooler: Right. Well, I hope that you guys do get to travel because, for me, that’s kind of what I still hold to my heart. And it helps to kind of expand in your thinking and your views on the world. But yeah. Mexico’s awesome too.
Colman: So what would you say, right now, is the most exciting thing going on in your life today? Not just with your business, but with your family and things of that nature?
What are you most excited about today?
Kady Pooler: Yeah. Honestly, I think it’s controlling my life. I like taking control and not feeling like I’m working for somebody else, where I’m having to kind of report in. And even though it wasn’t a job that was a clock-in job, you still get that sense that you’re having to show up at a certain time, leave at a certain time, show face for a certain amount of time. I had gotten to a feeling where I felt like I wasn’t really in control of living the life I wanted to live. So I think that’s probably the biggest and best part is that I feel like I’ve taken that control back. And I’ve now been able to design my days that, honestly, are the most productive for me. So it might be a few hours in the morning where I’m going to my Qigong class and then doing meditation and taking my dog out for a walk and it might be four hours and I might not start working until eleven. But I know that block that I have for work is going to be really productive and valuable.
Kady Pooler: So yeah, I would say that. And then, I got a dog a few months ago, so spending time with her and kind of seeing the world through her eyes has been a lot of fun.
Colman: What kind of dog is she?
Kady Pooler: She’s a Husky mix.
Colman: Ooh, a Husky!
Kady Pooler: Yeah. So she has these really piercing blue eyes that people love to stop and compliment her on. And she knows she has these pretty eyes. She just works it. And I have no idea what she’s really mixed with after that. Probably a Lab. She’s got a Lab coat, but she’s really pretty intuitive.
Colman: I’ve always wanted a Husky. I’ve heard rumors of a Husky Pomeranian mix. They just look like small Husky dogs. But I’ve heard that they’re kind of just a rumor, but who knows? Maybe one day. I heard there is a lot of money and they’re really hard to get your hands on if you can find them. But yeah, we have a couple of animals ourselves. Both of them are getting pretty old now. And my wife is at the point now that since we have the child, she’s like, I can’t wait till they die. And I’m like, that’s so bad. Like it all went to the baby.
Kady Pooler: Oh my gosh. It is a lot of work. I don’t have any children yet, but she’s like my practice child.
Colman: So, being an athlete, how would you describe a really good athlete brand? Do you have someone that you look up to? Maybe they were an athlete and went out and opened their own business? Tell us your thoughts on brand marketing.
Let’s talk about the importance of branding. How do you define an epic athlete brand? What’s your favorite athlete brand at the moment, and why?
Kady Pooler: Yeah. Interesting. So I guess, there are kind of two parts to that. I think a good brand means one that’s authentic. And I think it’s really easy to sniff out a brand or an athlete that isn’t being authentic. So I think it starts with that. And I think it’s one that is more than just the sport. Someone who isn’t really focused on the fact that they are a basketball player or a tennis player, but what are they doing outside of that? Sports marketing for athletes should convey what their interests and passions are outside of sports.
Kady Pooler: And I think someone who’s honestly just killing it is LeBron James. And I know that this is kind of the easy answer. But I think with the school that he’s opened, it’s showing something that’s completely outside of basketball using his brand marketing and his platform. It’s giving athletes this voice that has been silenced, to talk about things beyond sports. So he’s kind of more than an athlete. And he’s involved in a lot of different investments that are outside of sports, whether it’s, Blaze Pizza or two different tech companies. He’s involved in a whole lot of different things and really big on social media. I think there’s not a day that he doesn’t put some live posts on Instagram. Typically, he’s just dancing to music, but it’s authentic to himself and creating that narrative and that brand.
Colman: It’s kind of mixing that lifestyle branding with the corporate brand marketing. It’s become so big in these days and ages, especially when it comes to sports marketing for athletes. But I feel like on the other note, you have the corporate brands that got to a point where they can sniff out prospects that don’t take the industry seriously. So it’s trying to find that nice balance of, hey, I’m authentic, but I do run a business. I am professional. You know, I agree with you, I think that a lot of athletes, similar to yourself, want to find a passion that relates to what they did because they loved it. And then trying to divide, move that over. Not 100% about the sport itself, but still use some of the mentality and some of the ethics that they took from that and built a business out of it.
Colman: Being able to be passionate about helping children, helping other athletes, helping other individuals, and helping families. They can leverage that social media and online presence, where a lot of other industries don’t. They have to spend a lot of money to do so. So I 100% agree with you and LeBron James is a good one. And it’s kind of hard to take away the fan aspect and look at it from more of a business aspect. Cause sometimes you do see them on the court and you’re like, Oh well, it doesn’t look like he’s that nice of a guy. But at the same time, that’s what brand awareness is for, so we can go out and tell people. That’s the importance of branding. So you’ve kind of already answered the next question. But, when you look across the athlete landscape right now, what’s the one thing that you think more athletes should be doing?
When you look across the athlete brand landscape, what’s the one thing you think more athletes should be doing?
Kady Pooler: Yeah. Finding interests and passions outside of their sport. And I think that, again, kind of borrowing the phrase, being more than just an athlete. (Actually, I don’t think that’s a LeBron phrase. He’s kind of made it more popular. But I’ve used this phrase really for a long time as well.) Because you have to be more than an athlete. If your identity gets wrapped around that, as it did for me where it was just a tennis player, you don’t know a world outside of that. And so I think we’re starting to see more of it, but… I think the best thing athletes can do is develop passions outside of their sport. Whether that’s from literally a physical standpoint, maybe they really love yoga or they love wine, or they are passionate about political reform or whatever it might be. I think finding something that they have an interest in and leveraging off of that.
Colman: Yeah. I definitely feel like the biggest struggle when it comes to athletes is that, similar to the pain point that you had, they had to get to a point where they’re like, well, what do I do now? And it’s really hard because you get to this point where you make a lot of money. When people like myself, open a business, they start small, unless they get a huge investment, and they grow slowly. So they learn all those pain points with no money instead of a lot of money. And being able to, like you said, find something not at that last second, not when they’re about to retire or they’ve retired and said, what am I going to do now? Thinking about it a couple of years in advance. And you have to pay attention to your sport when you’re in a sport. Of course, that’s your main focus. Then divide maybe 10% of it for two years and invest. And just trying to develop that, learn some skills, and start using your digital platform more to reach more of an influence and more fans. Because at the end of the day, those fans are more likely to become your customers because they trust you and they understand you.
Kady Pooler: Yeah. I agree.
Colman: So, going off of the last question, what’s your best advice for athletes that want to leverage their personal brands?
What’s your best advice for athletes who want to leverage their personal brands?
Kady Pooler: Yeah, I mean, without the sake of sounding redundant, again, I think it’s first and foremost finding something outside of the sport. And it kind of sounds easy to do, but yet, I work with a lot of athletes who really have never done anything outside of that. So even if you hear my story, I mean, I started at four and at the age of, you know, seven or eight, this was going to be my life. And it was my life from the first thing when I woke up to going out and working out to literally being at school and thinking about tennis and my practices. The second the bell rings, it’s going to practice at the courts all day. Coming home, often, I didn’t even really do homework. It was a shower and then into my stretches and my rehab exercise routine. Then do it over again. So there was no time to build any kind of interest. And so, I think it really is just making the time. And, in some ways, maybe that was a detriment to me because it was only tunnel vision on tennis.
Kady Pooler: These outside passions would have actually given me a little bit of a breather and recovery to feel better at my sport. So I think that having those outside passions are going to actually help in a ton of different ways not just with your brand and your business, but also probably your mental side as well.
Colman: Yeah, definitely. And I see a lot of similarities when being from both sides. I feel like being an athlete is very similar to being in the corporate world where you do have people telling you what to do. They tell you how to eat. They tell you how to do your regiment depending on what sport you’re in. They tell you when to practice. They tell you where you have to go. And so you kind of have people that help you along the way. The corporate world is very similar. But being in your own business, you don’t have those people. So you need to find people that are willing to help you get motivated and even help you along the way. And of course, walking away from the people that are trying to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from you.
Kady Pooler: So, I think on that note, and I think this is kind of what you’re getting to. And I think another suggestion that I would have is, building a team around you. Cause again, when I think of my own story, it was pretty isolated. Tennis in itself is a pretty individual sport. And yes, you know, I had my coaches and I even had a nutritionist and a sports psychologist, and an actual coach for my skills. But yet I didn’t really have a team around me that supported me as a whole and as a person, to say how’s Katie feeling today and what’s going on in your world. And so while all the other team members were certainly valuable members of my team, I think building out a team that’s really there for you as a whole person is going to be a huge component to any athlete.
Colman: And I think that me being in the corporate world, I think that you come to see you have that bicker talk. So as an athlete, you have other people to talk to you. But once you go into starting your own business, you kind of get to a point where you’re like, I’ve become a loner, you know? And then you get on the phone with people that may even be a salesman. I’ve gotten the phone with people that are trying to sell me something and I bicker their ear off for like twenty minutes because I haven’t had anyone to talk to. So finding those teammates can help you build around your business mentally as well. I mean, I tell my wife all the time, I go to a counselor. I don’t feel anything’s wrong with it.
Colman: I feel like, I always tell her, I’m like, Hey, you’re always going to have your opinion towards me. My friends are always going to be opinionated toward me. It’s just how society works. And so you need to find someone that you can kind of talk to. It’s nice to have someone you can talk to you that has an unbiased opinion on anything you say. And in the business world, I’ve really seen a lot of companies trying to hire real cheap and going the route of, Hey, I’m going to hire someone hourly or I’m going to hire someone to do this. When in reality it’s like, well, if you tried to hire someone full time, you’re gonna at least be paying them $30,000 a year.
Colman : So trying to find individuals or companies that may be able to leverage multiple demographics from, and help you with multiple things at once, and be able to motivate you. I’m really trying to push my business. And, I know we’ve talked about this in the past, having a program where I just kind of help keep you motivated towards certain directions. If you don’t have enough money to pay for my services, then hey, I’ll just be there for you and help you be accountable, an accountability program. Because you do, you need people to kind of tell you what to do. And you know, sometimes I’d like to have someone where I can just go to for help, you know, even with my own stuff. A painter doesn’t paint his own house. And having someone I can say, should I do this or this, and just giving me an answer. You know, I just sit there and I dwell on it for months and months. I don’t want to do it unless they do it.
Colman: So with that being said, from the digital aspect, are there any tools you use? And maybe you can explain a little bit about what you do in your business now. And also, any tools you use to help you in your business development.
Tell us about your business. What’s the number-one tool you’re using right now?
Kady Pooler: So today, I run a coaching business. I’m kind of with a few different streams. So one of them and kind of my main one is working one-on-one with current and retired professional athletes. And actually, I should say, more elite athletes. I also have a lot of clients that were former division one athletes who maybe thought they were going to go pro or never envisioned or thought about life after sport and then it came upon them. And my primary focus is working with athletes to find their authentic selves. So a lot of that work is around identity. So, working with athletes on finding their authentic selves and transitioning to life after sport.
Kady Pooler: So, this might be in the passions or interests, but a lot of it is really just around identity. We get so stuck in our identity being wrapped around us being an athlete that a lot of us don’t actually know who we are. And then once you kind of know who you are, we’re malleable, we can change, then there’s the question of, well, who do you want to be? And then actually putting in place a plan in a kind of blueprint to actually become that person. So a lot of my work is around that.
Kady Pooler: And I also work with universities in a course that I’ve created called Beyond the Game. And this takes different shapes for different universities. But I would say, kind of primarily built around the same premise, with a lot of the focus really being on that identity portion.
Kady Pooler: So as far as tools that I leverage for my business….you know, I would say LinkedIn. It’s a great tool. I think, a matter of fact, that’s how you and I met. And I’ve gotten clients off of there and other partnerships and collaborations. Just really interesting conversations where I’ve got to learn about different things that are still involved in sports but maybe not in my forte or my expertise. Another tool is Zoom. I use that for pretty much all of my coaching calls. It allows me to work with clients anywhere in the world. But it’s also great for being able to record if you’re going to do a webinar or you want to do a podcast or just certain posts. They make it really simple and easy.
Colman: Yeah. Kind of using that right now too. Free brand marketing for Zoom! …Yeah, I definitely agree. And it’s really nice cause when we first met, we just talked on the phone, so it was really nice to put a face to the name as well. I feel like that one thing that happens in our day and age is that so many people look at other people just as, I’m not going to say things, but they kind of do because they meet them online and they think that they’re just another person out there. And a lot of times people can be pretty harsh. And so it’s nice to put faces to names and really, Oh, these people have personalities.
Kady Pooler: That’s right.
Colman: So the last question that I have for you is what do you see the future being for athlete branding and marketing? When it comes to how technology has gotten better and things of that nature?
Based on your knowledge and expertise, what’s the future of athlete branding and marketing?
Kady Pooler: Yeah. I think in the future we’re going to start to see more well-rounded athletes. So where the focal point isn’t necessarily just, on their sport, but it is going to be a lot on their extracurricular, their interests, their passions, their social justice, and areas that they have strong feelings in. I think it’s just going to become more well-rounded overall, where the sport’s almost taking a backseat. It’s just going to become their platform. So that’s what’s going to kind of give them their name. But I think as far as what’s going to differentiate and separate, it’s going to be everything that’s extracurricular outside. And I think of course, yes, social media. I have mixed feelings about it. And I know a lot of athletes are utilizing it. I follow a lot of those athletes. And I watch their content and it certainly gives me images of their brands and helps me to determine which athletes I become a big fan of and maybe ones I don’t. So I think it’s going be a kind of culmination of the social media and outside the sports factors.
Colman: And it always depends too on where social media goes. It’s changing so fast that pretty soon we’re probably going to have social media in our eyeballs and stuff like that.
Kady Pooler: I hope not.
Colman: We already have in our watch and you know, fitness trackers and all that nifty stuff. So. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. It’s funny; you’re the second person that’s mentioned LinkedIn is their favorite and most utilized platform. So that’s something for anyone watching this to really look at as they continue to grow their business. And again, I want to thank you. If you want, let everyone know again where they could find you and follow you.
Kady Pooler: Oh yeah, absolutely. So you can find me on LinkedIn. It’s Kady Pooler and you can also follow me on Instagram. It’s @kadypooler. And I also have a website which is www.overtimeathletecoach.com. And that’s my business, Overtime Coaching. I’m so happy to connect with anybody and always available for a conversation. I love connecting!
Colman: All right. Well again, thank you for coming to the show!