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A Champion's Perspective: Childhood and Parenthood
Iroda Tulyaganova is a former professional tennis player, who reached her highest WTA singles ranking of 16 in 2002. She shared with UNICEF her memories about her father and her parenting experience.
- How would you describe your father’s contribution to your achievements in sports?
- I used to be interested in different sports, and I would play football and basketball with neighbor kids. I even tried gymnastics, but my built didn’t fit the requirements (laughs).
One day my father said that he could arrange a trial lesson with a tennis coach to see if I would be interested. I went knowing absolutely nothing about what kind of sports it is or what the rules are. The coach gave me an old racquet and showed me how to work with the wall. I followed his instructions and started training. He was very surprised and asked me several times if it was really the first time I was holding a racquet. He asked me to bring my father to the next class, which got me really nervous because it usually means trouble.
When my father came, the coach invited me to the court and started doing simple rallies. Then he asked his trainee – an 18-year-old top ranked junior tennis player in the USSR at that time – how long he thought I had been training and the boy said ‘maybe, a year or two?’. That was his way to show to my father that I have a natural talent for tennis. And later that evening, after the conversation with the coach, my father showed me a video about the well-known tennis celebrities – their achievements and their world. Then he asked me if I want to be one of them, given that it takes a lot of hard work and sometimes even sacrifices. And I decided that I am ready to work my way to the stars.
So to answer the question – my father really brought me into tennis, he in some ways knew that it was something I would be good at. He let me decide and supported me my decision. Besides, later, he decided to dedicate all his time and attention to my career in sports. He was my manager, looking for sponsors, accompanied me on trips for international tournaments, and he bought me my first Wilson racquets with beautiful stars. (laughs)
- What can you say about your own experience as a mother and early moments of your son?
- I grew up in a different time, when parents didn’t pay as much attention to early childhood development. Now there are big changes. Personally, I wanted to fully embrace the joys of motherhood. I enjoyed every single moment of my child’s early days, even the sleepless nights or times when I had to carry him in my arms for hours. I have always wanted the best learning experience for him, I have always tried to spend a lot of time with him playing, walking, reading and singing.
I started considering preschools for him when he was 2.5, as I wanted to give him the best start in life. I used to take him to “Pochemuchka” (Early Learning Center) to observe other kids and see how they learn. So I totally support Early Moments Matter campaign and I tried to do my best in the best interest of my son.
Unfortunately, my husband and I separated when my son was around the age of 2. But it was peaceful and did not affect Paris (my son) – his father is still his hero. Paris gets ready in no time if his father is expected to arrive. They meet very often, they spend one or two days a week together, we have a very good relationship and his parents and he can come to our house without an invitation. I can say for sure that he is a good father even though he doesn’t live with us. And I think we figured out a way to make it work best for Paris.
- What is your message to all parents?
- I don’t have a lot of experience of course, I only have one son. But I can share my learnings. I think that children should grow with love around them. They will also know what is wrong and what is the right thing to do. I think children should not be afraid of their parents, or of telling them about the problems at school, with peers – whatever makes them worry. We may be strict at times, but we should always be the persons they can go to and rely on whatever happens. In that case, we can always be sure that we will be the first to find out if someone is bullying them or trying to get them into something wrong. We should be attentive and caring, but also teach them to make their own decisions.