The Williams Sisters on Friendly Competition

Every sport has a pinnacle – a climatic peak that every young athlete aspires to reach. In track and field, it’s the Olympic medal ceremony; in baseball, it’s the World Series. In tennis, it’s Wimbledon.

At the age of 11, Venus and Serena Williams were interviewed by a local news station. When Venus was asked if she saw herself playing at Wimbledon or the French Open, she responded with:

“I think about it. I have a wild card in the first round. I have a bye in the second round. I can play someone that you’ve never heard of in the third and fourth round. I get to the finals and I win.” 

For the Williams Sisters, the thought of winning Wimbledon was more than a pipe dream. The sisters were programmed from an early age to believe that they were destined to be number one.

“My parents told me I’d be number one in the world. I was brain washed.” – Venus Williams 

Exactly nine years after the interview with the local news station, Venus Williams captured her first Wimbledon title. Since then she has gone on to win four more Wimbledon Championships and seven Grand Slam titles in total. Serena, on the other hand has won five Wimbledon titles and 18 Grand Slams in total.

But what brought their lofty aspirations to fruition?

The answer can be found in the relationship the sisters share with each other. Venus, who is older than Serena by 15 months, played a dual role; during the day she was Serena’s big sister and during their gruelling training sessions she was her practice partner.

 “…what didn’t I do to copy Venus when I was younger? I mean, her favourite colour was my favourite colour, her favourite animal was my favourite animal. She wanted to win Wimbledon, I wanted to win Wimbledon… It was very difficult to be in the shadow of Venus because ever since I could remember she was in the newspapers.” – Serena Williams

Serena was inspired by her elder sister’s passion to pick up a racquet and play tennis. As the sisters’ amateur career progressed, their competitive spirit flourished and provided an arena for growth and improvement. Venus and Serena hated losing, especially to each other.

In a sit-down with Larry King, Venus Williams was asked by a fan if she would ever reveal the secret to beating her to Serena:

“(giggles) No. It would be breaking the laws of competition. I can’t tell her how to beat me. We practice against each other, isn’t that enough?”

The competitive dynamics are vital if you want to understand Venus and Serena’s relentless drive to win. Their mutual admiration doesn’t stop them from competing against one another, and their competitive spirit doesn’t interfere with their unique sisterly bond.

Just as Serena picked up the game of tennis from watching her older sister, Venus learned how to win from watching her younger sister. It was the younger and inexperienced Serena Williams that captured the pair’s first Grand Slam title.

“I don’t know how to win. I don’t know how to close a match out. I didn’t know how to fight. I don’t think that came naturally to me. (For) Serena it came naturally…. Am I going to learn from her example or am I going to crumble? I wanted to learn.” 

When it comes to being the best at something, gauging your progress is crucial. If you’re unable to track progress, you don’t know if you’re improving or worsening.

Sometimes it’s difficult to only rely on yourself; this is when friendly competition comes into play. Creating a competitive environment will help you push yourself past certain thresholds you’ve set. Turn to a friend or a colleague to find ways to compete against one another. But beware: being competitive with your friends or colleagues might compromise your relationship. If you sense someone isn’t comfortable with the idea, don’t push them.

Suppose you’re working sales and things have been slow lately. Turn to a colleague and ask if they’re interested in seeing who can complete the most sales by the end of the week. The winner buys the next time you go out for a bite. The competition doesn’t have to be intense, and the incentives don’t have to be grand. As long as the element of competition is present, you’ll find yourself pushing harder than ever.

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Image Credit: Julie Edgley on Flickr via Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Edited for cropping.

Akhil Shiv Kumar

About Akhil Shiv Kumar

Akhil Shiv Kumar is an English student at Ryerson University. His writing focuses on athletes, social activists and people you might have never heard of. If you like, or even dislike, Akhil’s writing, go ahead and let him know on Twitter @akhilshivkumar.