He’s seen the biggest wins and the saddest losses on the tennis court from very close quarters. Having played every possible role in Sania Mirza’s career, her father, her pillar of strength is enjoying the company of his grandson Izhaan these days. On Father’s Day, Imran Mirza talks to Afshan Anjum about his journey of raising a champion in this exclusive interview for SheThePeople.
When we talk about talented sportspersons or achievers we often tend to forget how much involvement and dedication we need from the parents. As a father, you’ve played the role of a coach, mentor, manager, and counsellor. Tell us what it takes to be the dad of a champion daughter.
As a sportsperson I could better understand the challenges that Sania faced and finding solutions to the problems was a lot easier.
I think you first need to have a great passion for the sport yourself and need to be committed to the job of creating a successful sportsperson. There’s a lot of sacrifice involved. While you train your daughter to handle victories and losses and success and disappointment with equal restraint and maturity, I think it’s very important to be able to handle these yourself. People around the player need to have a champion’s heart as well in order to produce a champion. As the father of an upcoming tennis player and then of a champion, I have had to don the role of a coach, trainer, psychiatrist, travel agent, marketing agent, media manager, financial controller among twenty other things. At the same time, it would have been virtually impossible to create a champion if Sania did not have the required talent. So I think it’s important to gauge the aptitude and level of a child’s ability before dreaming of producing a champion.
How do you think the role of fathers has changed or rather evolved in the current times as compared to when Sania was a child?
There is far more information available today than in the time when Sania was a child. For instance, when we started out we had no clue about how to go about producing an international tennis player, and we did not know how to even ask for guidance or who to ask for guidance. I think that has changed a little bit, apart from a lot more professional help available today, there is far more awareness and acceptability for parents wanting to help their kids grow up into professional athletes. There are more sponsorship opportunities as well, and the infrastructure for a sport like tennis has improved manifold in our country compared to the time when Sania started out.
We know that you’ve been a sportsperson yourself. Did you see yourself in Sania every time she was challenged and she fought back?
As a sportsperson I could better understand the challenges that Sania faced and finding solutions to the problems was a lot easier. There is no doubt that having a sporting background is of immense help in guiding a child in his or her career.
When did you feel she faced the toughest time in her life or career and as a parent how did to help her fight that challenge?
When we started out we had no clue about how to go about producing an international tennis player, and we did not know how to even ask for guidance or who to ask for guidance
I think coming back from career-threatening injuries was very difficult as apart from the physical aspect it is really tough mentally and emotionally as well. I think that’s where we as Sania’s team rallied strongly around her and spread positivity and that was ultimately reflected in the grit that she showed in coming back successfully from the three surgeries that she underwent on both the knees and the wrist.
|Sania's Early Years|
Earlier you were only nurturing Sania and Anam but now you’re a grandfather too. How has that changed your role in the life of the girls?
The atmosphere is a lot more cheerful thanks to little Izhaan (Sania’s son) and it is amazing what a child can do to spread happiness in the household and in the entire family. Now that Sania and Anam are both married and have their husbands to help them, it obviously means less responsibility for me and I can focus on spoiling Izhaan, knowing well at the back of my mind that his parents will take care of disciplining him.
You’ve been a brave, amazing father who stood by his daughters no matter what. Do you see the same spirit in Shoaib (Malik) and Asad?
Experience and circumstances bring out the character of a man. Shoaib and Asad are bright, young and loving individuals who happen to be sportsmen as well. I’m sure they will rise to the occasion whenever circumstances demand and will prove to be amazing parents.
Picture Credits: Imran Mirza