Few people have dared to dream as big as Richard “King Richard” Williams, father of Venus and Serena, a man who wanted a better life for his children. Before the two girls were born he devised a 78-page plan to turn them into two of the greatest tennis players in the world which – spoiler alert! – he did.
Many people think they know who Richard Williams is – the big character sitting courtside for his daughters’ greatest accomplishments, but few people know the story of the courage, determination and sacrifice that got him there. A new film from director Reinaldo Marcus Green, starring Will Smith as King Richard, tells the unbelievable true story of the man behind the legends.
Richard pushed his daughters to work hard to achieve their dreams, unashamedly driving them to the best of their abilities, and telling those who criticised him: “I don’t even mind you saying we’re hard on these kids. You know why? ‘Cause we are.”
He knew that even if the world underestimated them, even if they had to practise on “raggedy” tennis courts with second-rate equipment, even if “this world ain’t never had no respect for Richard Williams” they were going to respect Venus and Serena.
The film asks us to consider what we could achieve if we put our minds to it, and if someone believed and fought for us the way Richard Williams did for Venus and Serena. The three principles of commitment, confidence and courage are something we can all apply to our own lives, unlock our potential and become the greatest versions of ourselves.
Life lesson one: commitment
There’s no denying that Venus and Serena had a rare talent, but King Richard reminds us of the sheer amount of work it took to get them where they are today. Richard started giving his daughters tennis lessons when they were four years old, and had a clear vision of what they could achieve, convinced that “Venus and Serena are gonna shake up this world”. He was certain that if they never gave up, they could achieve all of their greatest dreams.
We’ve all heard that, apparentemente, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make yourself an expert, but the film asks us to actually consider what that involves. It’s waking up day after day to push yourself, to hit a shopping trolley’s worth of balls, committing to goals no one but you can see. Beyond Richard’s commitment to his daughters’ careers there was also his devotion to protecting their spirits, leading him to pull them out of junior tournaments he thinks will deprive them of the joy of childhood and the joy of the game. Because commitment to your dreams doesn’t mean agreeing to be exploited.
Life lesson two: confidence
When we first meet Richard, who is coaching Venus and Serena himself while working as a security guard by night, he possesses a confidence that many of the affluent white people he encounters seem perplexed by. By merely operating within the world of elite tennis he battles stigma on a daily basis. Despite the judgment and the rejection, Richard knows his, and his daughters’, value.
When he meets with a potential tennis coach, Richard stays strong when the coach downplays Venus and Serena’s talent saying: “The chance of achieving the kind of success that you’re talking about is just very, very unlikely … Tennis takes expert instruction, it takes families with unlimited financial resources” – things he knows the Williams sisters do not have. But Richard is undeterred, certain that if he can get them the right opportunity, Venus and Serena will become two of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen.
When they walk into a tournament and dozens of shocked white faces turn, Richard keeps his head high, assuring his Black family: “It’s OK, they’re just not used to seeing good-looking people like us.” When the whole world doubts you, this film reminds us that confidence is something no one can take away.
Life lesson three: courage
Richard didn’t just face microaggressions at white country clubs. When training his daughters on the courts in Compton, the Los Angeles suburb where they grew up, the family was often surrounded by danger. At times he had to physically put himself in harm’s way, and ended up beaten and bruised on the tennis courts where Venus and Serena played.
More than anything, Richard had the courage to stand up for his family. When he sees his daughters being potentially exploited he stops it in its tracks. “We gonna do this a different way," lui dice. In a racist world with the odds stacked against you, it would be easy to be paralysed by fear and feel hopeless in the face of injustice. We all hope to have the courage to stand up for those we love: King Richard shows us how it’s done.
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