By Luke Conway
Tennis phenom Gianna Pielet sits down with hosts Kayvon Thibodeaux and Chase Griffin for the Zone In podcast, to discuss how she navigated athletic stardom at an early age and learned to be true to herself.
Gianna started playing tennis when she was five, and by age eight she was winning national tournaments. At age 14, she signed a deal with Adidas, one of 15 female athletes the brand signed to represent Title IX, an expansion of civil rights laws that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal funding.
“Adidas has been amazing,” she says. “They've done a great job really supporting me and they've been with me through my journey, so it's just been awesome.”
By 18, she was ranked No. 3 in the nation, and had the opportunity to go pro. “But I decided that the college route was good for me,” she says. “Because college is just a great opportunity for me to grow as a person and as a player.” After looking at offers from University of Georgia, University of Oregon, Duke University and University of North Carolina (UNC), she chose Texas A&M as the best fit.
Learning and growing
Gianna says her parents have been her biggest supporters throughout her journey. And when she started earning a stipend at college and then pulling in big endorsement money, they were the ones who helped her learn how to manage it.
“I was actually terrible with spending my money, especially when I was younger,” she says. “So my mom was very, ‘Put it in, save it, save it, you need to save that money.’ And I was always like, I want to spend it. And actually my first year of college, because I'm on scholarship, they give us a stipend and I went a little nuts with it and I kind of spent so much money that my parents had to end up paying rent and stuff like that. So I've really learned so much about saving my money and just not spending.”
Today, she puts her money into a savings account and has a retirement fund that her parents helped her set up. She hopes to keep working with Adidas and also sign other brand deals. She says she feels confident in her ability to manage her career and her money moving forward, and gives the credit for that to both of her parents. Along the way, as she’s improved her time- and money-management skills, she’s had other influences and mentors too. “I've had so many great people from Adidas, like Billie Jean King, Layshia Clarendon, Candace Parker, who are amazing athletes, amazing people, and they've really set the tone for me.”
Navigating the NIL world has also helped her develop. “It's definitely got me more disciplined, I would say, especially with my goals and what I want to achieve,” she says. “And I know now, if I want to become professional in tennis, I need to save for my future and save for whatever I want to be. And I feel like that with the NIL deals, it's really helped me become more like, okay, this is what I want to do and I'm going to save for it.”
Being true to herself
The biggest lesson she learned along the way, Gianna says, is the value of being true to herself. Coming out as a lesbian was a key step in that direction. “It was pretty tough I would say in the beginning because I only came out to my parents and no one else knew, and then I was outed, so then I was like, okay, it's now time to be myself and really move forward in that direction,” she says. “And I think it's important because it's helped me become a better athlete and person, just being myself.”
She describes her struggles with mental health before she came out and says there was a time during the COVID-19 pandemic when she didn’t even want to pick up a tennis racquet. Through journaling, meditation and yoga, she learned to love herself and embrace her sport again.
Today, she says being her true self and helping others to embrace their true selves is a big motivator. “So I just recently made a video that just basically talks about being myself, and it was hard for me to be myself,” she explains. “And I want to promote to be yourself always no matter what, because I think a lot of people miss that. They want to please other people and do what they're supposed to, and my motto was like, it's okay to be yourself and do what you want to do.”