Brittany Teei is determined to pass on the lessons she learned in the tough world of professional tennis. Through Kidscoin, a software programme that teaches kids financial literacy, she’s found just the way to do it.
“My grandparents always said, ‘be the best you can be’,” she says. “This feels like a good start.”
Brittany, who is of Ngai Tahu and Cook Islands descent, grew up in central Auckland. A chance visit to a local tennis club, aged eight, led to her catching the eye of a New Zealand selector and she was soon playing tournaments around the world.
“I didn’t come from a tennis family, and the lifestyle it gave me was really different to the humble beginnings I had come from,” she says. “I just loved the game.”
But things took a dark turn when Brittany, then 14, broke her foot badly while playing at the world championships in Europe. She was in terrible pain, but kept playing for another year and the break wasn’t diagnosed for some time after that.
“I was always quite relaxed, so people thought I was just being lazy when I said I couldn’t train or play because my foot was sore.
“By the time someone listened to me, I couldn’t walk properly.”
Brittany’s injuries were so serious she required immediate surgery, followed by two years on crutches. Her glittering future in tennis seemed to evaporate, along with many of her former friends and supporters.
“People thought that because I was always smiling, that I should be happy. But I didn’t have any coping strategies when it was all taken away from me. I went down a really bad path, I didn’t realise that I was dealing with all these issues.”
The turning point came several years later, when she saw a young woman she used to play against – and beat -in a TV tennis match with Serena Williams.
“It lit something in me. I realised my life wasn’t what I had dreamed of and that I still wanted to play tennis. I made the decision to change my life around.”
Less than two years later, she returned to the professional tennis circuit and represented the Cook Islands at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. She was on track for the 2012 Olympic Games until her training was derailed by illness.
“I had worked so hard, and it all got taken away again. That brought up a lot of old feelings, but I looked at where I was at and I thought, ‘now it’s time to give back’.”
Brittany moved to Melbourne and set up a tennis coaching club, but remained mindful of a desire to pass on what she’d learned as a result of her experiences.
“When I was playing tennis I had been in a world where the money side of things was all taken care of, but a lot of people make mistakes because no one really talks about it. If you aren’t learning good habits at home, then there’s nowhere you can go,” she says.
“I wanted to find a way to help kids learn about money, and build self-confidence. I knew it had to connect with them in a way that was relevant. It’s a bit like being a translator – I thought, how can I say this so a nine-year-old will listen?”
The result is Kidscoin, a software programme that neatly connects financial literacy learning with real-life experiences and the local community. The premise is simple – children complete lessons aligned to the school curriculum, and earn Kidscoin ‘money’ every time they successfully complete tasks. They then learn to save, invest and pay taxes on their funds, with a view to having the chance to spend them twice a term on real-life goods and services donated by local providers.
Brittany ran a pilot programme in conjunction with Massey University in 2015, later winning the DigMyIdea Maori Innovation Challenge in the same year.
The win, which came with development money and mentoring, helped her run the programme with a class of Auckland nine-year-olds with below average literacy and numeracy skills.
“We ran it for nine weeks and it just took off,” she says. “These kids were having amazing conversations about money and goals. It was a really good start.”
Kidscoin officially launched in May, attracting huge interest from a wide range of areas. Brittany is looking forward to taking it as far as she can.
“When you watch your mum and your aunties working three or four jobs to put food on the table, that stays with you. When you see the pain they went through to provide for you, out of love, you want to carry on what they started. That’s my main driving force.”