***Natalia Shulaeva is the mother of Ekaterina Shulaeva, a Canadian professional tennis player on the ITF and WTA Tour. She has seen the journey from sponge balls to Center Court at Rogers Cup. ONcourt thought it would be interesting to get a parents’ point of view of the successes, setbacks and experiences of becoming a pro tennis player. Be sure to read the interview with Alex Shulaev, Ekaterina’s father, to get his insight as well.***
ONcourt: What are some of the reasons why you decided to put your child into tennis?
Natalia Shulaeva: When we started our child in tennis, we just wanted her to have some physical activity, we had no idea the doors it would open. In the beginning it was very innocent, the kids walked around balancing balloons on their racquet. But ultimately, we wanted her to have a healthy lifestyle and to learn organization and focus.
ONcourt: What did you hope your child to gain by playing the sport?
NS: I hoped Katia would learn skills such as sacrifice, discipline, time management and goal setting so she could use these skills to apply them later on in her own life. We just wanted to give her the best head start possible for a good life.
ONcourt: What surprised you the most about the sport, in a positive way?
NS: What surprised me most was the community surrounding tennis, it is so rich and diverse, from toddlers to senior citizens. People who pick up tennis seem to play it their whole lives. Another surprising thing was the amount of people who invite travelling pro players into their home, just because they have the love of tennis as a common ground. It is almost like a shared password amongst tennis enthusiasts.
ONcourt: What surprised you most about the sport, in a negative way?
NS: How hard parents push their kids, expecting more than they are supposed to, especially in the early stages. When they are young, the fun element is supposed to be the priority and instead, I see a lot unnecessary pressure on the kids who are too young to understand.
ONcourt: Is there anything you would do differently if you could do it all over again?
NS: Not as a family or as a parent but personally, I would be probably not be as upset over losses looking back. I would get so upset over Katia’s under 10 losses, just putting so much stress on myself over trivial matches. It’s funny to look back at it now.
ONcourt: Do you have any advice for current or future parents of tennis?
NS: To be patient in your child’s development and to support your kid no matter what. Win or lose, believe in them and show them that you do. Remember that your child is a person first and a tennis player, second. Give all the love you have because the most important thing is your relationship with your child.
ONcourt: Due to tennis, what are you most thankful for?
NS: Pierre Lamarche, who has become a great family friend and became a mentor and third parent for Katia. He taught her invaluable life lessons and saw her grow from child, teenager and then to adult. He had great impact in helping her in her journey.
ONcourt: How did you handle disappointments, losses and setbacks?
NS: I handed setbacks by believing that there would be another day, another chance, another match. I also put emphasis on learning from mistakes and moving forward.