Who taught you how to play tennis?
It may be surprising that for many professional tennis players, the answer to this question is, “My momma.”
TENNIS MOMS ARE A BIG DEAL
From Left: Andy Murray with Judy Murray, Venus and Serena Williams with Oracene Price, Candi Gauff, Sybil Smith and Sloane Stephens
Jamie and Andy Murray, Martina Hingis, Jimmy Connors, Marat and Dinara Safina, and of course Venus and Serena Williams (more on this later) were all coached by their moms. Lots of professional tennis players have moms who were incredible athletes. Sloane Stephens mom Sybil Smith was a collegiate swimmer at Boston University and holds seven school records. Coco Gauff’s mom Candi was a track star at Florida State University where her heptathlon performance in 1991 was one of the best in FSU history. Stefanos Tsisipas’ mom Julia was a former WTA professional. These women are badass!
WHO TAUGHT PROBLEM SOLVING?
Tennis is a game of problem solving. As parents, we can either teach our kids to rely on us to solve problems for them or teach them how to problem solve on their own. Many times, this teacher is a mom.
My first job after high school was an internship with Bank of America. My bosses name was Tammi, and everyone told me she was such a bitch. We weren’t allowed to ask her anything unless we tried to find the answer ourselves. Tammi wasn’t a bitch; she was just busy. I used her same philosophy with my kids. They’re all young adults now, and they know before they come to me with an issue, they better have tried to solve the problem on their own first. Growing up, if they had a question about something, I’d say, “Drop a Goog on it,” meaning, Google it. There are so many resources today, in the age of the internet, there’s really no excuse for not doing your own research. Even now, when they come to us with issues, I remind them, “You’re a good problem solver, what do you think you should do?”
In many cases, the one who taught players how to solve problems was their mom. Who better to continue to support solving problems on the court, than a mom?
Word, Billie Jean!
Who are we kidding? If anyone knows how to wage war with a smile on their face, it’s women. I’m joking. Kind of.
This quote reminds me of the “naughty chair”. I have two boys and one girl between them. When they were growing up, our one unnegotiable rule was that the boys were not allowed to be physical with their sister, regardless of circumstances. My sweet little daughter, in her two-year-old sinister toddler ways exploited this rule. She would bug the living shit out of her brothers knowing they couldn’t do anything about it. Thus, the creation of the naughty chair (thank you Nanny 911 for the idea). She was two years old, so when she would launch an attack on the boys, I would quietly pick her up and seat her in the dining room on a chair where she had to sit for two minutes. She hated it. Steam rose from her little brown curls and her face turned beet red. She cried, screamed, if she knew how to swear at the time, I’m sure she would’ve cussed me out, but it worked. From that moment on, if she started teasing the boys, all I had to do was give her a swift side-eye and she fell in line.
Having quiet, patient, calm, stoic strength is such an advantage in tennis. Look at Elena Rybakina. How many articles have we read about having positive energy, and positive body language on the court? How many times have we been told, don’t show your cards, don’t overreact, don’t show negative emotions? Obviously, men and women are both capable of having calm, quiet strength. I don’t want to generalize, but I think it’s safe to say often women must use quiet strength.
Women have been practicing the art of quiet strength for centuries.
For women, being anything but quiet in your strength tends to backfire. If you’re too loud, you’re Extra, if you’re too ambitious, you’re a bitch, if you ask for more, you’re ungrateful, if you complain, you’re a Karen. No one is more accustomed to making sacrifices for the benefit of their children, with little to no reward or recognition, than a good strong mom. If you need examples, just scroll through ESPN 30 for 30 episodes. I don’t watch it often, but I’ve seen story after story of single moms, working 4 jobs to support their kids. Sure, they’ll take the macaroni necklaces and plastic jewelry from the 3rd grade holiday shop as reward because they know the work they’re doing will be worth it in the end.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
The perfect combination is a partnership or a team. Whether it’s made up of a mother and a father, like the parents of Coco Gauff and Ben Shelton or any combination of partnership. It’s impossible for one person to do it all. In my own experience, I know that our three children are the result of our partnership. My husband worked hard to provide, so I could stay home and teach them important things, like how to solve problems, and that being aggressive with girls is never ok. One didn’t happen without the other.
It's not about getting all the credit or notoriety for mom coaches. When I see Patrick Mouratoglou, I often wonder, does he think he’ll disappear if he isn’t in the picture with his player? He’s always visible, on the court, in the box, in the interviews, he needs it. And that’s okay. He’s an accomplished coach with impressive results, but it’s obvious, he needs that recognition.
This leads me to the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena were coached by both their father Richard Williams and mother Oracene Price, though she was often overshadowed by Richard. There has been one constant presence in the Williams sister’s player box since the beginning of their careers. Oracene Price. The epitome of eternal quiet strength. She was an unconditional supporter of her husband Richard and continues to be for all her girls. There is not a movie made in her honor, but I have a feeling she doesn’t give a shit. When I see Oracene, surrounded by her daughters, her son-in-law, and granddaughter(s), I think to myself, she will happily forego being celebrated in a film to sit where she is. She gracefully allows Richard to have the glory, because from afar, it seems like that’s all he has left.
Women have immense power. A song popped up in my random shuffle that referred to women as having p*ssy power (or if you’re Daniil Medvedev “small cat” power). Thanks, PARTYNEXTDOOR. Women are more than that. They have real strength, real fight, and real potential as tennis coaches. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see more of them on both the ATP and WTA tours.