Venus Williams Is 'Really Grateful' Her Mom 'Prepared Us' to Embrace Therapy: 'It's Everything'

·3 min read
Venus Williams
Venus Williams

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

Venus Williams feels "really grateful" for the way her mother Oracene Price encouraged her and her siblings to take care of their mental health.

"It's important to engage in therapy even before you might have something exactly to talk about, to work through and prepare yourself for anything that might come up in your life," Williams, 42, tells PEOPLE. The tennis star believes everyone "should be proactive about" their mental health, even before it becomes a concern. "You don't always have to wait until you have issues," she says.

"My mom always told us that — you have to work on your mental strength. That was her theory of raising kids...you also have to help them mentally be ready and prepared."

Along with tennis superstars Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz, Williams is working with the online counseling service BetterHelp to provide up to $3 million worth of free mental health therapy as part of their continued partnership. "This year, we're coming back in a bigger and better way," says Williams, who has been working with the company since 2021. "I'm so excited to be a part of that and to literally give away opportunities for people to work on and improve their mental health."

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The giveaway, offered to those who sign up at the BetterHelp website, will come in the form of one-month of free therapy subscriptions, with a total equivalent value of up to $3 million.

"I'm so happy to join my fellow tennis players, Francis Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz, by giving these opportunities for everyone in our community to improve their mental health. Now people are able to actually get help, especially communities where that was not looked upon in the past, can admit they need help and start to talk about it, and be able to have access to that."

As awareness around mental health 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 forefront," she says.

Serena and venus williams us open
Serena and venus williams us open

COREY SIPKIN/AFP Serena and Venus Williams

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As an athlete, Williams says, "We're supposed to be indestructible, undefeatable, super strength, almost like superheroes. But for athletes to share their stories of what they've gone through really helps people from all walks of life, and that's so important."

Williams says her performance on the court is always affected by her headspace. "I do so much work proactively to work through the kind of mindset that I want to have when I step on the court and think about how I want to feel, how I want to play, how I want to perceive myself, how I want to perceive that match."

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"Being on top of" her emotional wellbeing and "mental game" is crucial for Williams. "In tennis, it has to be the mind and the body connected. If they are not, you cannot play. So even if you have the most talent in the world, if you aren't connected mentally, you're not going to walk away as the winner."

The seven-time Grand Slam singles winner says, "The mind is so, so important in every part of life, but in sports, it's everything."