Pam Shriver confesses: “When I was 17 I had an inappropriate relationship with my 50-year-old coach”

Pam Shriver and Don Candy arriving in Sydney in 1982 - CREDIT: FAIRFAX MEDIA ARCHIVE

Pam Shriver and Don Candy arriving in Sydney in 1982 – CREDIT: FAIRFAX MEDIA ARCHIVE

Former American # 3 Pam Shriver has decided to tell a painful page in her life, linked to her very first years on the WTA tour. She did it exclusively for the British newspaper Telegraph with her colleague Simon Briggs, a painful confession to help all young sportsmen who find themselves in a complicated relationship with their coach or member of their staff, and do not know how to get out.

“When the pandemic shortened my work schedule last year, I realized that I could no longer put it off. I finally found the courage to consult a therapist and face my experiences as a young tennis player. Now, a year later, I have decided to publicly share my story ”Pam begins. Her story is divided into a summary of her intimate story, and then in a second part (very detailed) she enters those very complicated years for her, lucky on the pitch but difficult for the relationship that had been created with her. coach, Don Candy, over 30 years older than her.

“The summary of this story is that I had an inappropriate and harmful relationship with my coach, much older than me, which began when I was 17 and lasted a little over five years. Below I have set out the details of my painful and emotional journey. It was not easy to unravel what happened, but I believe this is an important issue that needs to be brought out. My main motivation is to let people know that everything that has happened to me still afflicts me, a lot. I believe coaching relationships that cross the line are so common in sports, so alarmed. My particular experience, however, is in tennis, where I have witnessed dozens of cases in my four decades as a player and then as a commentator. Whenever I hear about a player dating their coach, or see a male physio working on a female body at the gym, my alarm bell rings. It is not only women who suffer from harmful coaching relationships, they make up the majority. Sometimes they are young girls and much older men. Sometimes the ages are similar and it could be argued that two consenting adults have the right to do whatever they want. But mixing your personal and professional life creates all sorts of extra tension, especially in the closed world of sport. For any player or athlete who will read all of this, I want to point out the downsides of crossing personal and professional boundaries. My experience suggests that when you separate these two parts of your life, it’s not just your emotional well-being that improves, but your performance on the pitch as well. Which should be an incentive to break the cycle ”.

Here are some excerpts from the complete story, in which Pam describes how she fell in love with her coach from an early age and how he did not immediately take advantage of her, but then the situation became a real clandestine relationship that he, the adult, does not managed to manage. Shriver met her future coach from her lessons as a child in 1971, when she was only 9 years old. The American started training with the coach, growing quickly in results.

“When I was around 13, Don told me that he and his wife would be returning home to Adelaide for a few months. I went home and took a shower. And then, to my surprise, I started sobbing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was just entering puberty and I was starting to fall in love with him. ” The two continued their journey together, with Pam’s rapid rise to tennis Pro.

“In the midst of my tough time in the tournament, Don and I found ourselves sitting in a rental car outside an indoor arena in Minneapolis. I had just lost another game in the first round and Don was talking to me about things I could have done differently: the usual kind of manager-player conversation. I started sobbing. I remember very clearly saying, “There is something else here.” He asked me, “What?”, And I replied, “I’m falling in love with you.” I was 17, he was 50. This is where things could and should have taken a different turn. If Don had been better informed, he might have been smarter about the potential complications that come with coaching a teenage girl. Clearly, he wasn’t a predator. When I spoke in that rental car, he didn’t know what to do. But he had this great talent for ever, a 16-year-old US Open finalist (he had played the final in 1978, ed), and he didn’t want to let me go. I still have mixed feelings about Don. Yes, he and I have been involved in a long and inappropriate relationship. He was cheating on his his wife. But there was a lot about him that was honest and genuine. I loved him. He was the adult, he should have been a trustworthy adult. In a different world, he would find a way to keep things professional. Only after the therapy did I start to feel a little less responsible. Now, finally, I realized that what happened was his fault. My relationship with Don was a traumatic experience for me. The after-effects lasted well beyond the time they spent together. Our relationship shaped my entire romantic life experience. It complicated my ability to form normal relationships and established certain patterns that would repeat themselves: my continued attraction to older men and my difficulties figuring out how to keep healthy boundaries. The next five years were a time when everything became blurry as boundaries were crossed. I was so young, I didn’t know how to ask for help. I didn’t understand what I was getting into and I’m not sure he did either. The relationship started to get physical, intimate. We didn’t actually have intercourse until I was 20, two and a half years after our rental car conversation in Minneapolis. But we shared the rooms. We’ve done pretty much everything two people who are attracted to each other can do. Don has never sexually abused me, but there has been emotional abuse. I felt so many horrendous emotions and I felt so alone “.

A painful confession that goes on to tell how then their relationship was interrupted and with other coaches nothing happened from a sentimental point of view. Closed that page, Pam lived “the best years of my life”, free from that relationship. Her story ends with an accusation against the world of sport, which leads to these problems, a reflection and a question: “Our first and biggest obstacle is the culture of silence. If we want to protect the athletes of tomorrow, more people need to talk about their stories. We are talking about pitfalls that affect many, many people. The whole issue has to get out of the dark places of sport. But are the authorities ready to listen? Opportunities have been missed in the past. In 1993, investigative reporter Michael Mewshaw wrote a book, Ladies of the Courtin which he suggested that tennis’ must warn players about potential abuse [e] warn the coaches that exploitative behavior will be penalized. ‘ His reward for trying to tear that veil of silence was seeing his book banned from tournaments. I hope we can do better in 2022 ″.

Pam Shriver has shown enormous courage in getting naked, in confessing such a difficult past in the hope of being able to help young people who risk (or live in) similar situations.

Marco Mazzoni

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