You don’t win seven Grand Slam singles titles and four Olympic gold medals without an iron will and Venus Williams has that (present tense as she’s still going). In September, she wrote an essay for the New York Times about “the thing that has really made her tough”, starting with a life lesson from her mother:
I’m sitting at my desk after having to pull out of this year’s U.S. Open with a leg injury. Managing physical ailments is always difficult, but it’s part of a professional athlete’s job. I have always understood this.
But my body is only half of it. I still remember the first time my mother told me this: If I wanted to thrive in this sport — and in life — I needed to take care of my “whole self.”
The story takes place when Venus was 14 and playing her first pro tournament (back when 14 year olds were allowed to do that) and revolves around her mother’s sage advice. I mentioned Venus and an “iron will” but it’s the maintenance of her mental health as well as her physical health (particularly after her autoimmune disorder diagnosis a few years ago) that has kept her on the tour for four decades.
Paying attention to my psychological well-being has allowed me to love the game of tennis for this long. I guess you could say it’s the thing that has really made me tough.
I am fortunate to have family and coaches who let me lean on them. For me, open and positive communication is essential. It has been wonderful to see so many athletes, such as Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, talk about the need to tend to the inevitable psychological issues that bubble up for all of us.