Entertainment, Sports

King Richard: Serena and Venus Williams’ dad shows pushy parents are not all bad

THERE are many universally accepted truths in the sporting world. One is the portrayal of athletes in films, particularly ones about tennis, are often diabolical.

“Wimbledon”, the Paul Bettany film depicting a second-rate tennis player going on to win the world’s most famous tournament may have been decent, but the actual tennis in it made my eyes bleed.

Another is that pushy parents are, without exception, a bad thing, and  unequivocally detrimental to their children.

Certainly, there are plenty of examples of overbearing parents causing considerable damage to both their children’s sporting careers, and their wellbeing.

The list of kids wounded by their  parents is lengthy; from Jennifer Capriati to Andre Agassi to Jelena Dokic, there are countless examples in tennis alone of the damage that can be done.

Sporting films and pushy parents have now collided, with the release of “King Richard”, the film about Serena and Venus Williams and their father, Richard, played by Will Smith, who was unquestionably instrumental to the pair’s success.

The Williams sisters famously hailed from Compton, the Los Angeles suburb riddled with crime and gang violence.

Their father, before the pair were even born, decided that despite tennis being an overwhelmingly white sport, his daughters were going to excel.

The rest is history.

“King Richard” documents the sisters’ journey through their teenage years into the pro ranks, and the role Richard played in their  success.

There has been some criticism, much of it justified, that it is incongruous to make a film about two of the greatest female black athletes of all time and have it focus on their father.

But while Serena and Venus’ success is, of course, primarily down to them, it remains an indisputable fact that they would have never scaled the heights they did without their father.

From the very moment he came up with the idea of producing tennis champions – he wrote a detailed plan about the path they would take before they were born – he was the epitome of a pushy parent.

The film depicts how Richard decided on their training schedule, stipulated to their coaches – some of whom had worked with the best players in the world – technical aspects of the girls’ game that were non-negotiable, and dictated which tournaments they would, and more importantly, would not play.

Even as they became Grand Slam champions, their father retained a firm hand on their careers.

The commentary about Richard has, overwhelmingly, been about the almost suffocating nature of his role in his daughters’ lives. 

Certainly, there are few who would suggest he was anything other than pushy, which is almost universally accepted as bad.

But is it?

Venus and Serena would not have achieved the success they did without their father. This is incontrovertible.

Without their father, they would likely never have picked up a tennis racket, never mind have become the greats they have.

So why, then, is pushiness from a parent derided quite so heavily?

There is, of course, a point when that pushiness becomes destructive; one only needs to look at Capriati and the like to see how damaging a parent’s input can end up being.

But it is not always harmful to the child or children.

Richard Williams showed that if channelled in the right way, pushiness can open doors and smooth a path that would have been far bumpier if travelled alone.

There are too many parents who are overzealous; look no further than the screaming and shouting on the side lines of a kids’ football game to see why pushy parents are looked upon so disdainfully.

But ambitious parents should not be dismissed at first glance. 

Because without the force of their father behind them, we would never have heard of Venus and Serena.

AND ANOTHER THING 

THE curious case of Peng Shuai continues.

More than three weeks after her disappearance following her allegations of sexual assault against a high-ranking former Chinese government official, we appeared to have had confirmation that the tennis star is alive, but we have little more than that.

The head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, held a video call with Peng last week, in which she said she was safe and well and just wanted to have some quiet time with her family.

There was, it seems, no mention of Peng’s allegations in the conversation, and no attempt to dig into whether or not the 35-year-old was acting under any kind of coercion from Chinese officials. But despite the lack of any probing questions, the IOC decided to take Peng at her word and have now stated “nothing to see here”.

The governing body of women’s tennis, the WTA, to their credit, have been far more sceptical and still refuse to relax their drive to check on Peng’s welfare until someone from the organisation has spoken to her directly.

Perhaps the IOC will end up being right and she is fine, but if not, their willingness, keenness even, to appease China at all costs will be a stain on their record that will be impossible to erase.

Let’s hope, for the sake of Peng, that there is no more to emerge. Most betting people though, I suspect, would have their money on there being more to come.

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