Exclusive interview: Serena Deeb on becoming the newest coach at the WWE Performance Center
The NXT Women’s division has only been around for a few years, but as the springboard for the Women’s Evolution, its legend already looms large. That’s where Serena Deeb comes in. A former acolyte of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society (you might remember her getting her head shaved in the middle of the ring), Deeb resurfaced as a competitor in last summer’s Mae Young Classic and was recently named the newest Women’s coach at the WWE Performance Center. Days before the hire was made official, WWE.com caught up with Deeb to find out how the Superstar-turned-yogi got one of the most coveted gigs in WWE and why she’s a different breed of coach than the Performance Center has seen.
WWE.COM: What exactly will your role be in the Performance Center?
SERENA DEEB: I will be a coach for the female talent, and obviously, alongside Sara Amato for the first little bit and helping to groom the next generation.
WWE.COM: Is the ultimate goal that you will be teaching your own class?
DEEB: I believe that is the goal, yes.
WWE.COM: Do you know if you’ll be focusing on the newer recruits or more along the intermediate-veteran lines?
DEEB: I do not know that just yet. I would love to work with the newer recruits; I think that would be really fun.
WWE.COM: What about them appeals to you specifically?
DEEB: Just thinking back on my career and the process I went through, helping people to reach a point where you can see the lightbulb go off and they start to grasp certain things is very rewarding. I think that it’s very different for beginners than it is for people who are a little bit farther along as far as the concepts you’re trying to teach them are going to be different in those levels. I think teaching people in the beginning, when it’s a clean slate and their brain is just really starting to absorb everything and things start falling into place, is just a really crucial time in their development.
WWE.COM: You mentioned in an earlier interview that you come from a lineage of teachers. What is your process of teaching students outside WWE, and how do you think it will apply to the Performance Center?
DEEB: Well, a lot of people in my family, including my mom, were schoolteachers. And I also have a history with teaching yoga, which I did for several years. I have experience in several different areas, but I’ve never primarily been a wrestling trainer before, so it will be interesting to see the crossover. But I think if you have compassion and try to meet people where they are and be really hands-on, it’s very important for people to be able to relate to each other.
WWE.COM: Speaking of which, learning to wrestle was this very rough-and-tumble process when you broke in. Do you think the industry was missing this more compassionate outlook when you were training, and do you think it would have helped you if you had it?
Being able to contribute to instilling a healthy mindset and helping [recruits] to be better people though the whole process is very important to me.
DEEB: I experienced more of the tough love, and in hindsight, I’m extremely grateful for that because it gave me a thicker skin. I think when a lot of athletes look back on impactful coaches in their lives, a lot of those coaches will lie in that area of tough love because it’s kind of an unforgettable experience. At the same time, especially getting into wrestling so young — I was 18, just a baby — I definitely craved a little bit more of the compassionate approach, [but] I realize it would have molded me differently. It’s kind of a tricky question. I’m super grateful for the approach that was taken, but I will be bringing something totally different to the table.
WWE.COM: Is there anything specific from your yoga teaching you think would apply particularly well to WWE?
SERENA: Just that everybody is in a completely different place. One of my favorite spiritual teachers calls it “individualized curriculum.” Everybody is coming from an entirely different place, their brains work differently, their body works differently, their athletic background is different, their psychological background is different. I think having the flexibility, that compassion and that empathy, and being able to garner an understanding of each individual person, is key.
WWE.COM: Getting back to the Performance Center, can you tell us how the offer to coach came about?
DEEB: Sure. The offer presented itself initially almost a year ago. It was pre-Mae Young Classic. I knew of the tournament and was aware of it, and then I was contacted by the company to see if I had any interest in being one of the talent in the tournament, but it was also coupled with the idea of potentially coming in as a coach following the tournament. The tournament was the first stop on the tracks, and following that, I came back in a week in the fall for an official coaching tryout, and following that, it was pretty quickly offered.
WWE.COM: What exactly does a coaching tryout entail?
DEEB: It was really interesting! I was there for a week. A lot of it was shadowing the other coaches and seeing how everybody does it differently because everybody has their different flavors. Running classes, running drills and talking to each person. I did a lot of one-on-one, watching tape review and watching people’s matches back and offering feedback. It also entailed going to the Live Events and producing matches, giving feedback there as well, just kind of getting a feel for the whole system again because it’s been a while since I’ve been under these roofs.
There's a little bit of pressure. Sara Amato and Sarah Stock are some pretty big shoes to come in and step beside.
WWE.COM: What’s changed since you’ve been gone?
DEEB: It’s just an incredibly well-oiled machine at this point. It always was, but it’s been very interesting to see the evolution. I started in OVW, I was there for five years and then I was in FCW, so I got to experience a lot of the different locker rooms and environments. NXT is … I don’t want to say it’s what it always should have been, but it’s kind of what they always were striving for, and it finally is what it is.
WWE.COM: Speaking of NXT, the shadow of the Women’s division kind of looms large even though it’s only been a couple of years. Do you feel any pressure following up on its past successes, or are you just excited to get to work and see who the next star is going to be?
DEEB: I’m very excited, so absolutely. But there’s a little bit of pressure. Sara Amato and Sarah Stock are some pretty big shoes to come in and step beside. What is beautiful about the whole thing is that we all have a history with each other, both personally and professionally. We’ve known each other for a long time and been around a lot of the same locker rooms and companies. There’s a lot of crossovers in our opinions but also a unique approach to each individual coach. It will be a really wonderful thing to have us all come together and contributing.
WWE.COM: What are your goals specifically as a teacher and as someone who’s just starting out as a coach?
DEEB: To really step up into this leadership role, which is a new thing for me. I’m just looking forward to the set of challenges and rewards that are coming with this responsibility and getting to improve myself personally and professionally. I’m focused on how I can be a better person and a better coach. [I want] to give my best self to them so I can be a reflection of them and receive their best selves back. I think it’s so important for the individual, regardless of the role you’re in, to always be mindful of where you’re at and always take your self-inventory so you can garner the best side of them as well.
WWE.COM: It sounds like what you’re striving to instill in these recruits is to focus on the emotional center rather than the physical challenges of the job. Would that be fair to say?
DEEB: Absolutely. Looking back on my career, those were a lot of my struggles over the years. The mental and emotional part and being so young in this industry, as young as these girls are now. It’s very challenging. [There are] so many new experiences that you haven’t dealt with before and having to navigate them and figure out how to handle them and stay true to yourself at the same time. It’s a 24/7 job, and being able to contribute to instilling a healthy mindset and helping them to be better people though the whole process is very important to me.