National Press Club

Williams: Discipline, Drive on Court Can Lead to Success in Any Field

July 7, 2010

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Venus Williams has won five Wimbledon and two U.S. Open Championships on her way to becoming the third-ranked women’s tennis player in the world. She’s also established a clothing line and an interior design business.

The focus, discipline, drive and confidence that leads to success on the court provide the skills required to win off the court, Williams said at a July 7 NPC Luncheon, where she encouraged young people to participate in athletics.

“Sport will teach you how to compete; how to fight back; how to win,” Williams said. “Sports is the ultimate way to build confidence.”

Williams, 30, has been on the professional tennis tour since she was 14. She’s not considering retiring, but she is looking ahead to the next phase of her life, which helped inspire her to launch her clothing company, EleVen, and the design firm, V Starr Interiors.

The thousands of hours she has logged on the court to hone her forehand, backhand, serve and footwork didn’t just teach her the importance of muscle memory. They foster habits of precision and attention to detail that translate well to design work.

“I like to make things perfect,” Williams said. “Any athlete is obsessive and compulsive. You have to be willing to do it over and over again and do it right.”

Playing tennis the right way was central to the life of Williams’ family. She and her sister, Serena, have risen to the top of the tennis world, often competing against each other in the late rounds of tournaments.

Venus Williams credits her and her sister’s success to the support they received from their parents. They came out of an unlikely setting for future tennis stars, the Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles. But their mother and father instilled in them self confidence and the ability to dream.

“Our parents taught us to go out and make your own path,” Williams said.

Williams said that if a young person’s journey includes some time playing sports, it will benefit him or her throughout life. It’s a point that she makes in her new book, "Come to Win."

For instance, hours of tennis training developed Williams’ ability to concentrate. “You have to be focused during practice,” she said. “You can’t let your mind wander.”

She also learned from her dad that she should write her goals down on paper – whether her aspiration was to win a particular match or work her way quickly up the world rankings.

“We were always taught to set goals – write them down,” Williams said. “It becomes something visual, something real.”

Williams has achieved one goal on behalf of all of her tennis colleagues: making the winnings for women’s tournaments equal to the prize money on the men’s side. Williams serves on the Women’s Tennis Association Player Council that pushed for the earnings parity.

Female tennis players are role models in many countries, Williams said. That status made it imperative to adjust the pay scale.

“What kind of example were we setting if we were not paid as much as men?” she said.

Williams is trying to elevate the status of women around the world by becoming a founding ambassador for the WTA-UNESCO Gender Equality Program.

“You have to give back,” Williams said.

For the foreseeable future she’ll also be taking home as many or more tennis trophies as her rivals on the court, including her sister.

-- Mark Schoeff Jr.,