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Venus Williams is “truly grateful” for the way her mother, Oracene Price, has encouraged her and her siblings to take care of their mental health.
“It’s important to get into therapy before you have anything to discuss in detail, to work your way through it, and to prepare for anything that might come up in your life,” Williams, 42, told PEOPLE. The tennis star believes everyone “should be proactive about their mental health” before it becomes a problem. “You don’t always have to wait until you have problems,” she says.
“My mother always told us that – you have to work on your mental toughness. That was their theory of parenting…you also have to help them be mentally ready and prepared.”
Along with tennis superstars Frances Tiafoe and TaylorFritz, Williams is partnering with online counseling service BetterHelp to provide up to $3 million in free mental health therapy as part of their continued partnership. “This year we’re coming back in a bigger and better way,” said Williams, who has been with the company since 2021. “I’m really excited to be a part of this and literally giving people opportunities to work on and improve their mental health.”
The giveaway offered to those who sign up on the BetterHelp websiteis offered in the form of one-month free therapy subscriptions valued at up to $3 million.
“I am very excited to join my fellow tennis players Francis Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz in giving everyone in our community these opportunities to improve their mental health. Now people can actually get help, especially communities that haven’t had it in the past, can admit they need help and start talking about it and have access to it.”
As mental health awareness grows among athletes, Williams applauds the progress made since the pandemic began in 2020. “We’ve come such a long way since the pandemic, when this conversation really came to the fore,” she says.
COREY SIPKIN/AFP Serena and Venus Williams
As an athlete, Williams says, “We’re meant to be indestructible, invincible, super strong, almost like superheroes. But when athletes share their stories of what they’ve been through, it really helps people from all walks of life, and that’s so important.”
Williams says her performance on the court is always influenced by her headspace. “I work so much proactively to work through the kind of mindset that I want to have when I go on the pitch and think about how I want to feel, how I want to play, how I want to perceive myself, how I want to to see this game.”
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For Williams, being “in control” of her emotional well-being and “mental game” is crucial. “In tennis, the mind and body must be connected. If this is not the case, you cannot play. Even if you have the greatest talent in the world, if you’re not mentally connected, you’re not going to walk away victorious.”
The seven-time Grand Slam individual winner says: “Mind is so, so important in every area of life, but in sport it is everything.”