For Emma Raducanu, that momentum multiplies tenfold, especially on the road to Wimbledon. Parents are central to most tennis players’ lives because the elite path begins at a much earlier age than athletics.
While I was trying out track and field at my local club at the age of nine, Emma was already competing nationally at the same age. Her parents needed to be involved and help steer their young daughter’s national governing body, funding, coaches and medical care.
Once the action begins, her parents will literally take center stage – they sit next to the coach in the players’ box as TV cameras pan across them, capturing even the most nuanced facial expressions, family dynamics that seem to be blown up on our screens. All it takes is a glimpse captured by photographers and it’s like, “Gosh, he’s a pushy dad, he’s going to be mad after this game”. It runs away with itself. I think a lot of people aren’t really prepared for this kind of exam. But we now live in a world where everyone wants to know every little detail of someone’s life more than ever.
We have this really small snapshot of an athlete’s life, we judge it by first impressions and the headlines we’ve read and by that prejudice that if you’re involved as a parent, you’re toxic.
“Emma does great things for women’s sport”
Sometimes, of course, that can be the case. There was a girl who was coached by her father when I was coming through as a junior. She was big and strong and she worked out a lot, four times a week, she was already lifting weights and she was way ahead of everyone else. But I just remember that she was really unhappy and didn’t enjoy being in competitions. You could see the pressure her father was putting on her. It’s important to work as a team to find the right balance so that coaches and parents don’t both act as one big force on the athlete. That would be too much for anyone.
I think it takes a really well-rounded person to be able to be a coach and a family member at the same time. You have to wear so many different hats, it’s very hard.
But it can work. Jenny Meadows and Trevor Painter are a good example – he has been her coach for most of their careers and they are married. They are super successful and feed well on each other.
Returning to Wimbledon next week will be tough for Emma. Her last performance there was stressful and sparked a national debate about mental health.
She came through amazingly well, but no doubt she will still have those memories and emotions and she will want to show how she has evolved.
What we do know about Emma is her resilience to deal with pressure – from winning the US Open to everything that has happened since, juggling endorsements and the intense spotlight on her. She is doing amazing things for women’s sport and her profile is great for women around the world.