Andy Roddick From Serving Up Aces to Serving Austin’s Most Underserved Communities
Written by Liz Harroun
Interviewed by Dan Dillard
Photography by Leslie Hodge
Andy Roddick, Former tennis star, resides in Austin with his wife, actress and entrepreneur, Brooklyn Decker and their two children. He candidly discusses life after leaving professional tennis and why he wants the Andy Roddick Foundation to be his lasting legacy.
After winning 32 titles, including the 2003 U.S. Open Men’s Singles championship, Andy Roddick retired from his professional tennis career in 2012. However, his exit from the pro tennis circuit has not stopped his efforts to secure a legacy. In fact, Roddick recently got rid of most of his trophies from his 12-year tennis career, claiming they did not symbolize success for him. So, what does success mean for Roddick? It starts with giving back to his family and community.
The idea for the Andy Roddick Foundation began when Andy was a teenager inspired by his mentor, Andre Agassi, a professional tennis player who reached the world No. 1 ranking in 1995. For Roddick, he treated the opportunity to travel and play with one of his idols as a free education.
Roddick was both respectful and curious when spending time with Agassi, who was a well-known player and entrepreneur juggling what seemed to be a million things. Along with Agassi’s impressive tennis career, his foundation had been instrumental in championing and facilitating the opening of charter schools in Las Vegas. Roddick learned by listening to the discussions Agassi was having with other people. Agassi would also give Roddick 30 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time to ask any questions on his mind, and Roddick took full advantage.
"What's it like to be number one? Is Brooke Shields a good kisser? Everything you would want to know," Roddick says. "And then I asked him what his biggest regret was. He said, 'I didn't start my foundation early enough.' When your hero says something like that, it holds weight."
Inspired, Roddick started raising money along with some friends. In the first year, they raised a couple thousand dollars and gave it away. The next year, Roddick went up in the rankings and made a good run at the U.S. Open. He also formalized his foundation.
The Andy Roddick Foundation was up and running in 2000, but back then, Roddick explains, it was "a typical athlete nonprofit where you have events, you raise a bunch of money, and you give it away and hope that people are responsible with it."
Ten years later, in 2011, Roddick was having dinner with one of his oldest and most accomplished friends, Jeff Lau. When Lau asked how the foundation was going, Roddick told him enthusiastically about a gala they had hosted. Elton John had played, and the event had successfully raised $1.5 million dollars.
Roddick sensed that Lau wasn’t impressed. When he asked Lau what was on his mind, Lau answered, "I like what you're doing. The foundation is great and admirable, but it's also relevancy-based. Once you're gone, and once you're not playing anymore, you're dead. You won't be here in 10 years with what you're doing."
Roddick left dinner, furious. Unable to shake Lau’s warning the next morning, Roddick realized he was unsettled because Lau was right. Roddick asked Lau to become the first CEO of the Andy Roddick Foundation, overseeing a transition period. With Lau onboard, they started to own their brand, incorporating direct services, programs, and partnerships.
When Lau left to work at Google, Richard Taggle took the position of CEO. Roddick was initially determined to focus on charter schools just as his hero Agassi had done in Las Vegas. However, Taggle reasoned that there was not a need for charter schools in Austin. In fact, no charter licenses were available.
When Roddick asked Taggle where there was need, he replied, "Out-of-school-time space is completely neglected on the east side of Austin. There's a real opportunity to make a lot of impact there."
Roddick decided that providing support and education for kids outside of the classroom would become his goal. He focused on kindergarten through fifth grade, based on studies that show a direct correlation between elementary academic success and prison populations in Texas. Roddick realized that kids needed a positive environment most during those young, consequential ages.
In 2014, the foundation began with one school, providing after school activities to 80 children. Roddick explains that fundraising and public relations would have been easier if the foundation had provided a smaller service to thousands of kids—but that’s not what was best for the kids. Roddick, instead, decided to begin small and focused so that the foundation could have a real and lasting effect on children’s lives. Currently, with the help of partnerships and different collaborations, the foundation has expanded to be able to serve 3,400 kids, while still maintaining its focused approach to every child.
Expansion is key because it reduces the cost per child. Andy admits he cannot fundraise in many different cities at once, but the foundation is working on ways to extend its reach.
"We are nationally, if not the best, one of the best in this space at executing our program, and our numbers back us up," Roddick says. "I have faith in our team's ability to expand and continue to do great work."
The foundation’s program exposes children to new ideas and paths outside of those often emphasized in the classroom by bringing in unconventional entrepreneurs to share their stories with the kids. Recently, Keith Kreeger, a successful local pottery maker, sparked the kids’ interest when he told them he makes plates for celebrity client Jay-Z.
"It is a little bit of a different take on education, but at the end of the day we want them to find that spark," Roddick says. "I grabbed a tennis racquet for the first time, and I was good at it. It gave me self esteem. I had a built-in social infrastructure [that] I gravitated towards. I want to give them their thing."
Roddick says that the foundation has also given him valuable perspective when going through difficulties in his own life, including his lowest moments in the tour. After a devastating loss in a Wimbledon final, people kept asking him if he was OK. Through his work with the foundation and the students it served, Roddick was familiar with what "real problems" looked like. Though disappointed, he understood that "his worst day was a dream."
The foundation faced challenges while transitioning to a more active program. They wanted to serve the East Austin community, but they didn't have the trust of community leaders. The foundation also lost some team members just a few years into the endeavor. Roddick felt that he had underestimated the level of personal relationships and trust that needed to be developed before making real progress.
The foundation continues to face challenges, including educating donors about the importance of "out-of-school time"—that it’s not babysitting but rather a support system that provides inspiration for kids to pursue their dreams. But once it had established its presence at Pecan Springs in West Austin, it gained more respect from the rest of the community. Now with a solid proof of concept, expanding into other areas is easier. The Pecan Springs staff trusts the foundation and wants to build on the partnership. Encouraged by the success of this partnership, Roddick believes that other schools will see the benefit of the program and get involved.
Roddick’s achievements go beyond his tennis career and growing nonprofit contributions. He partnered with business mentor Phil Meyers in 2004 to found a real estate company, the success of which he attributes to choosing the right partner.
When asked what advice he has for athletes who want to follow in his footsteps, Roddick says to make sure you’re investing for the right reasons—not just for the sake of doing or owning something—and to recognize and be aware of all the responsibilities and fees that go into ownership. He also encourages others entering new ventures to ask successful people questions and to make the right hires—two things he feels ultimately brought his foundation soundly through its transition.
These days, Roddick is focused on his family as well as the foundation. His wife, actress and entrepreneur Brooklyn Decker, leaves for work early, meaning Roddick’s day begins with responsibilities for his two kids—ages two years and six months.
"I didn't ever think that I had the capacity for emotional attachment that these kids bring out in me. No day's the same, but they're always busy, and they're great."
With his days filled with foundation and family activities, Roddick is clearly staying active since retiring from his professional tennis career. He has translated the discipline and commitment from his athletic career into new ventures, and he has grown in his emotional and relational capacities and priorities. In doing so, his definition of success has evolved, and now he seeks success by looking for ways to best serve his family and community—especially by making sure underserved children get the support they need to reach their full potential.
Learn more at arfoundation.org. To see the entire vidcast interview with Andy Roddick, become a member of the Masters and Founders Facebook Group. It's free to join!