Breaking Stereotypes: The Power of Motherhood in Elite Tennis

Elina Svitolina, the Ukrainian tennis player who reached a career high of world number 3, had a baby 6 months ago. She returned to playing competitive tennis three months ago, entered Wimbledon as a wildcard, and has now put out the world number one Iga Swiatek. 


This is HUGE news for the world of tennis, for Ukraine, for mothers in elite sport, and for working mothers in general.


The Rise of Motherhood in Tennis

The presence of five mothers competing at the highest level in the draw in Wimbledon this year, carries profound implications for women in the world of professional tennis and beyond.


It takes extraordinary resilience and dedication to balance motherhood and elite sports. A man becomes a parent, and carries on business as usual with no biological changes to his body. 


For a woman, the body has to go through huge changes to accommodate another human, and then contract back after giving birth. That is, if one is lucky to have a straightforward birth without any trauma. Serena Williams, regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, almost died in childbirth with complications. She came to play competitively and to say it was a superhuman effort both physically and psychologically will not be an exaggeration.


Mothers in tennis have to contend with the logistical feat of travelling with an infant on the tennis tour. The tour is gruelling enough on one’s own but throw an infant into the mix and things become infinitely more complicated. If you have ever travelled with an infant on holiday, the kit and kaboodle required to transport such a small person is mind-boggling. And yet, these tennis mothers have to deal with this, on top of the normal tennis stuff and hopefully not have to worry about the colour of underwear at Wimbledon.


Having these mothers in the draw is a powerful statement about the shifting landscape for women in professional sports. It shows that motherhood should not be a barrier to pursuing one’s athletic dreams. They of course need tremendous support from their families, teams, and the tennis community at large. It takes a village. Elina Svitoina’s husband Gael Monfils who is also a tennis player is at home with the baby while she competes at Wimbledon.


Implications for Women in Elite Sports

The presence of the five mothers in the draw this year holds broader implications for women in elite sports. It challenges societal norms that often pigeonhole women, forcing them to choose between their personal and professional lives. These mothers demonstrate that with the right support and resources, women can excel in their careers while embracing the joys of motherhood. 


Their accomplishments send a resounding message to young female athletes that they can pursue their sporting ambitions without compromising their desires to start a family. This representation is crucial in inspiring the next generation of female athletes and encouraging them to dream big, irrespective of societal expectations.


A lot of women labour under the misapprehension that you can’t be a good mother and a good career woman. They convince themselves that something has to give. The career gives, which leaves them living a life of quiet desperation because being a stay-at-home mum is not for everyone. Your career ambitions don’t die because you had a baby, but your options can die if you don’t fight for the support that you need.


As a coach specialising in working mothers, I always encourage my clients to have it all. Yes you read that right, have it ALL. It takes skill, confidence, good self-esteem, clear boundaries, and amazing communication skills to have it all. Your real job as a working mother is to go and get the resources that you need to support you to continue being a good mother and also to have a great career simultaneously if that is what you want. 


Your children deserve to see you happy and crushing it. Don’t settle.


Next stop, breast pumps and baby changing facilities in the locker rooms so that mothers can have a last cuddle before stepping on centre court.


If you’re a working mother and you struggle with balancing motherhood and your career, grab a chat with me here. If you want to hear more from me, you might be interested in my FREE masterclass – register here to watch anytime.