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Serena and Venus Turn to Dad When Faced with Trouble

The prestigious Indian Wells Masters tennis tournament near Palm Springs, California was something Serena Williams had always looked forward to.

Sisters Serena and Venus Williams were scheduled to play against one another in the semifinals match. Minutes before the match, however, Venus pulled out due to an injury. This resulted in Serena automatically advancing to the finals.

As Williams entered the stadium to face Belgian superstar Kim Clijsters in the finals, she was met with a roar of boos from the crowd of over 15,000 fans. The fans had suspected Williams, her sister, and their father of fixing the semifinals match.

It took a moment for the American player being booed by American fans in her home state to realize the roar of disapproval was being aimed at her. 15,000 people booing one player in unison was unheard of in the game of tennis, and it continued even after Williams won the title.

In her acceptance speech, Williams said, “I would like to thank everyone that supported me, and if you didn’t, I love you guys anyways. Thank you.” The player was met with more booing.

Much of Williams’ strength to persevere through hard times, harsh criticism, and gross racism, she accredits to lessons from her father, Richard Williams.

The lifelong coach and mentor wanted a better life for his daughters and would often tell them, “It’s us against the world.”

The father began coaching his daughters on cracked tennis courts in Compton, California where gunshots could often be heard ringing in the background. He would often travel to country clubs where he would beg for used tennis balls, which he would then haul in a shopping cart to the girls’ practices.

Williams’ coaching techniques were unconventional to say the least. He made his daughters practice things like throwing footballs and even their tennis rackets as far as they could.

His training included more than just teaching the techniques of tennis. Early on, he recognized the importance of each of his daughters possessing healthy self-esteem. Williams, who grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana in the 1940s, was no stranger to prejudice and struggle.

He was aware that his daughters, as female athletes and as African-Americans in a historically white sport, would face mounds of criticism. While they were young, he taught his daughters to ignore the insults hurled at them by school children who watched as the sisters practiced. It was lessons such as this that helped to prepare the sisters for the anticipated recrimination and judgment they could face as they continued to excel in their sport. It helped them to endure what they faced at Indian Wells.

“Criticism is one of the greatest things, I think, that we’ve been trained to live through,” Williams said of his training in an interview with CNN.

Along with teaching his daughters to use criticism to their advantage, Williams also stressed the importance of maintaining a sense of self-assurance. Early on, he even admonished a reporter for continuing to question then 14-year-old Venus about why she felt so certain she could accomplish her goals.

Armed with the lessons taught by their father, both on and off the court, the Williams sisters have dominated tennis and are revered by current and past players both for their skill and their perseverance.

Featured Image by Edwin Martinez on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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