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Thursday, January 12, 2012
Serena's honesty strikes a chord

By Adena Andrews

"I don't like working out; I don't like anything that has to do with working physically. If it involves sitting down or shopping, I'm excellent at it." -- Serena Williams' recent postmatch comments from the Brisbane International

Some women gasped in shock at Serena Williams' comments. Others breathed a sigh of relief because they finally realized they weren't alone in their feelings.

But with those two sentences, Williams summed up the opinion of tons of American women, including me: We don't like working out.

Health and fitness media outlets make exercise seem like fun and speak of this weird "exercise high" one is supposed to get after training. The truth is, working out can be dirty and ugly. It's rough and we're not always happy to do it. (Last week, I had phlegm fly out of my mouth as I ran at a 10.0 pace on the treadmill while my thighs chafed from poorly fitting shorts. There was no "exercise high" there.) So, I admire Williams for keeping it real.

One aspect of Williams' news conference that some media outlets didn't highlight as much as her workout comments was her admission about the importance of tennis in her life.

"I mean, I don't love tennis today, but I'm here, and I can't live without it ... so I'm still here and I don't want to go anywhere any time soon," she said.

Some were confused by the comment. How can she dislike something but not be able to live without it? There's a psychological reason behind Williams' love-hate relationship with exercise and tennis -- a common case of ambivalence.

"A lot of athletes have mixed feelings about their sport," said Dr. Joel Fish, a sports psychologist from the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia. "We like to fantasize it's all fun and games, but it's still a job, and some days are going to feel like work. There is an assumption that just because athletes are really talented at a sport, that they love it."

Fish, who has worked with the Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers and the U.S. women's national soccer team, said ambivalence in sports is customary for someone like Williams, who has dedicated herself to an activity for many years.

If you are a daily treadmill jockey, you've probably experienced the same thing. You hate getting up to work out (sore muscles! bad hair days!), but if you go two weeks without hitting the gym, you feel like a shadow of your former self. I hate getting hit in the head by my boxing trainer, but I feel incomplete if I go a week without getting into the ring with him. If I'm not sweating or pushing myself, other parts of my life begin to slack.

Age could also be a factor for the 30-year-old Williams' recent uncertainty about tennis, according to Fish. After playing professional tennis for 17 years, Williams should diversify her interests, he advised.

"People change, and athletes are people who change," Fish said. "You're not the same person at 30 that you were at 22, and neither are your interests."

Fish suggests Williams should limit her play to matches that are important to her, which will allow her time to "recharge her batteries" by entertaining other activities and focusing on her intellectual and emotional needs. Williams likes to dabble in acting and fashion, and doesn't shy away from being a socialite. Her successful career on the court has afforded her the right to enjoy life off of it.

So go ahead, Serena, lie on your couch from time to time; go shopping without looking at the price tag, or just expand on your own clothing line. You've earned it.