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  • Writer's pictureDavid Denes Pall

Commentary on King Richard movie (The Williams Method) and what Tennis Parents can learn from it

Whether you’re a hard-core tennis player, a tennis parent, or someone who follows inspirational women, I’m sure I don’t have to introduce the Williams sisters to you: Venus and Serena. Together they won an unbelievable 30 Grand Slams.

A movie, King Richard has recently arrived in the cinemas about the two Serenas’ childhood, early career, and most importantly their father, Richard Williams. He wrote a famous plan based on his ultimate intention: to make Venus and Serena tennis champions.

I was really excited to watch the movie because I deeply admire the achievements of the Williams sisters as well as their long career: they are both still active over 40.

The Williams Method and its potential drawback

There was an aspect of the movie that I’d like to write about: the father’s obsession to raise two world-class tennis players.

“I wrote me a seventy-eight-page plan for their whole career before they was even born.” (Richard Williams - language as used in the movie)

Richard Williams not only planned but also executed his famous Williams Method which included training (first by him and his wife serving as coaches, then professional ones), media preparation (he started to record his daughters’ games from an early age), getting sponsors and more.

Right or wrong, he diligently implemented his plan and his daughters became the very best in the tennis world. What’s more, they left poverty behind. Serena alone earned 94.518.971 USD from tennis to date (and that does not include all the money she got from sponsors).

To be honest, it’s not unusual for me to see a father or a mother (or even both) so confident about their child’s career. I’ve seen many parents who were so obsessed with their child’s tennis career that they sacrificed most of their money and time for the success of their little one.

It’s really nice to believe in one’s son/daughter and support them whatever it takes. The problem is that the case of the Williams sisters is the exception, not the rule.

Therefore, I’d like to warn tennis parents to think through the moral of the movie of King Richard before blindly giving all in for those visionary Wimbledon titles.

First, let’s see what tennis parents can definitely learn from the movie

1) Let your child know regularly that you believe in them. This way they will develop healthy self-confidence and will be capable of high performance under pressure. What’s more important, they will not quit when they lose because they’re constantly reassured that their value is not dependent on their achievements. King Richard never ever doubted that his daughters will be champions and his confidence cascaded to his daughters too who even stated they want to win Wimbledon.

The famous Venus Williams interview: notice her self-confidence

(and the dad's quarrel with the reporter)

2) Keep studies in the focus. There’s a small chance that your child will be the next Serena Williams or Rafa Nadal. Chances are they won’t. It might be difficult to face the truth but important when it comes to planning your child’s future. Therefore, it’s a smart thing to follow what Richard Williams did: no training until the homework is done, no pro competitions until the girls don’t speak multiple foreign languages.

“The most strongest, the most powerful, the most dangerous creature on this whole Earth is a woman who knows how to think. Ain’t nothing she can’t do.”

(Richard Williams - language as used in the movie)

Trust me, those hours spent on studying will always pay off: if your child will be a TOP 10, she will be better able to handle the media but if she decides to end pro tennis, she will have excellent chances to get a great scholarship and study at a prestigious university.

3) Make conscious decisions and protect your child when necessary. The parents of the Williams sisters were always aware of the consequences of certain life decisions, such as the first media appearances or sponsor deals. A tennis career might seem like a sprint (usually a player performs at their best for 10-15 years) however life is a marathon. Be careful, and don’t be a fool for some shiny short-term wins (sponsors with quick financial rewards) over a long-term strategy that can build the foundation of a happy, lucrative life for your loved one.

Richard Williams and his wife were indeed great role models in many aspects. Still, there are a few things they did I discourage parents from repeating

1) Don’t make definite, rigid decisions about your child’s future. She has to discover the world for herself and find her own answers. The Williams parents decided about the whole life (or at least the first 40 years) of their daughters even before they were born. The film shows how successful their life was with no major failures. However, children whose pathway is so well-planned ahead, usually suffer from mental issues because they were not involved in the planning or simply because they can’t hold the pressure. For this reason, make sure to include your child in the decisions about her career as early as possible.

2) Don’t let your child miss their childhood: that time will never come back. Of course, working hard is inevitable when it comes to long-term success. However, don’t let training cancel your child’s youth. I think the movie was a little exaggerated about these questions painting a much better picture than it really is in most cases. Junior players with tight training and tournament schedules have so little time left to play with their friends. Don’t forget: your child can only be a long-term champion if she’s healthy in her mind. And a healthy mind develops only thanks to a healthy lifestyle. Plus, if your champion-aspirant child has siblings, take extra care so that they don’t feel undervalued in the group of the siblings.

3) You’re not a coach. You’re a parent. In the movie, Richard Williams went too far multiple times interfering with the knowledge of the professional coach. I often experience that parents want to actively participate in the coaching of their child, sometimes even correcting the coach. This does not only make the coaching less effective but these parents create an unnecessary layer of dependence between them and their children. It’s really important to acknowledge the experience of the coach and let them do the job.

All in all, the movie is definetely worth those 2+ hours for two main reasons. First, it raises important questions about what it takes for the parents to raise a top tennis player and it also gives certain (right or wrong) solutions on how to do that. Second, it’s just simply a joy to be a part of the historical success of the Williams sisters - at least during these hours.

What do you think about the role of the parents in tennis? Let me know in the comments, I’d be happy to discuss it.



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