Monday, August 20, 2018

Coach Swap: Serena Williams and .. the French Davis Cup team?!

It's been a long time since my last "Coach Swap." It's been so long that it involved Venus Williams and another player whose whereabouts are now unknown to me.

But this one's important because Serena Williams needs some help, STAT.

Now, unlike most tennis fans, I do have a memory and I do recall that Serena advanced to the Wimbledon last month. But I've been reading her interviews lately, and the Time magazine piece confirmed the thing I've been thinking.

Serena Williams needs Amelie Mauresmo to join her team -- temporarily. I'd say through the end of 2018. This isn't to suggest that Patrick Mouratoglou (one day, I will spell this name correctly without consulting the Google) is flawed in some way. But he's been bugging me a little bit. When he tells Serena she needed to stop nursing, my knee-jerk was to ask why, because he's a man. It bothered Serena and we know that at least another mom who was a pro had some questions, too.

Yeah, so I didn't like that.
As someone who changed her diet to keep up nursing my kids, I didn't understand the health-related concerns Mouratoglou might have had. The foods you consume to keep your body producing breast milk (such as oats and barley) doesn't fly in the face of healthy foods. And I also know that many women haven't had the pounds drop off from breastfeeding. It happened with my first child. The second one, not so much. But there are no health reasons that I can think of that would make nursing a problem for an athlete. Unless you're worried about the time investment, and it is that. You do need to change your schedule.
Now, Serena has said that she decided to stop nursing on her own because she wasn't losing weight fast enough. But it is clear she struggles with this because she talks about it ALL THE TIME. If I'm a coach, I'd prefer to deal with a player who is mentally free to focus on tennis when she's at practice, but maybe that's just me.
The main thing Mouratoglou can't understand with any depth is that the body of any woman who has delivered a child has changed. Literally, parts of you that were in one place have settled into another. The way Serena moves on the court now, it occurs to me that perhaps it wouldn't hurt to have someone on the team who plays tennis -- and who has given birth and is fully aware of what that means, which is where Mauresmo comes in.
Mauresmo is obviously a good coach -- she worked with Andy Murray. She's the coach of the Davis Cup team for France and helmed the Fed Cup team for a time. The last guy who did that was, yeah, a guy. She's also a mom. As a player, she struggled mentally, and overcame it. Sounds like insight Serena might need right now.
Before her pregnancy, Serena's movement was catlike. Her flexibility? I don't know too many women in their mid-thirties who could do a full split. And sometimes, watching her play now, it seems as though she's trying to do the same things. And it's not to say that she'll never be a good mover on court. It is just to say that her body has changed and it might be necessary to move in a different way. I am not a pro (obviously), but I'll use myself as an example. After my first child was born, my hips felt weird. They felt like they were still shifting whenever I laid down to go to sleep.
One time, I became convinced that my hips were dislocated. They didn't hurt, but they weren't the same and every time I woke up, I'd take my first steps and they didn't feel reliable. It's hard to explain. I still sleep with a pillow between my legs for this reason.
I can't wear the jeans I used to wear, because my hips are wider apart now. After I had two babies, suddenly, I had boobs. I needed a solid sports bra to keep them out of the way.
I played league tennis throughout my first pregnancy with no problem (and the approval of my ob-gyn), all the way up to what I thought was my final month of pregnancy. (The kid was a little early ...) My second pregnancy, I had to stop at five months. I reached for a ball during one match and felt a sharp pain in my lower abdomen. It turned out to be nothing involving my daughter, but I stopped anyway. But by that time, I understood that this baby was carrying differently and I had to move differently because my natural movements weren't as ... well, natural, anymore.
Is Serena's coach aware of these types of changes? Like, really aware? And can he make Serena really aware of these changes, and watch her movement with this in mind? Like, say, perhaps a woman who has been pregnant?
No, Mauresmo didn't play on the tour while she was pregnant. She was pregnant while she was coaching Andy Murray and it's hard to believe she never played while she was expecting. Even if she didn't pick up a racquet during that time, Mauresmo is not only a fine coach, captain and motivator, she understands what has happened to Serena's body and that is what Serena needs right now.
She needs someone to tell her it's OK and that she's not a crappy mom because she wants other things. She needs (needed) someone to tell her, "You want to keep nursing. OK. When do you feed your baby? When do you need to pump? We will practice during those free times." She needs someone to tell her that she doesn't have her old body and it's not coming back and it's totally fine. It's a different body and it's going to have more weight for a while, and we (Serena and Mauresmo, because in my head, this has already happened) are going to get you moving in a more efficient way for your new body. It occurs to me that Serena thinks that if she can't do the same things she used to, that she can't be great any more. But there are many ways to achieve greatness.
Mouratoglou knows a lot about tennis. Something tells me he doesn't know much about the female body and how it recovers after giving birth. Having someone on the team who can understand what Serena's body is dealing with right now would probably help.

No comments: