Ana Ivanovic has a healthy retirement plan. But IRAs or 401(k)’s were not the topics of discussion when she and I talked about this plan at the recent 2019 Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Summit in Chicago.
Instead, I’m referring to her stated plan when she had announced her retirement back in December 2016. On her Facebook page, she had indicated that in the next phase of her career, ‘‘I will become an ambassador of sport and healthy life.”
This makes sense. Even though Ivanovic emphasized to me that she is “not a doctor, a nutritionist, or other health professional,” she knows quite a lot about sports and living healthy. Although recurring injuries prompted her to retire at age 29, she had to maintain a level of health and fitness that few in the world could to achieve her success on the court. She is one of only 26 women in the history of tennis to hold the number one ranking in the world. In 2008, she won the French Open, arguably physically the most challenging Grand Slam to win because you are basically playing on dirt. Oh, and how many people besides the Mario Brothers can claim that they have appeared as characters in multiple video games such as Smash Court Tennis 3, Virtua Tennis 2009, and Grand Slam Tennis for the Wii?
Plus, no one is going to mistaken Ivanovic for George Costanza of the television show Seinfield. While Costanza repeatedly presented himself as an architect, despite having zero architecture experience, Ivanovic actually has already had a healthy amount of experience as an ambassador of sport and healthy life. For example, since 2007, she has served as a UNICEF national ambassador for her native country of Serbia. Children’s health has been central to this role. Ivanovic said that she “is passionate about children’s health and neonatology,” and very interested in bringing “warmer communities for children to thrive.” Just last July, UNICEF announced that Ivanovic had “launched a humanitarian campaign to help premature babies and their families, which would result in a reduction of children mortality in the first month of their lives.” Then there’s been her involvement with PHA because she was “Looking to get more involved with the community such as helping kids and raising awareness of nutrition facts.”
Moreover, last year, Ivanovic gave birth to a son, which made her “even more conscious about children’s health.” Carrying a baby in your belly for 9 months and then caring for a miniature person can do that. This was the first child for Ivanovic and her husband Bastian Schweinsteiger. Schweinsteiger is a current member of the Chicago Fire soccer team and was a star for the German national football team that won the 2014 World Cup, just in case you thinking about another Bastian Schweinsteiger.
So with that background, we chatted about health, particularly children’s health. What follows are ten lessons that I gathered from what she said about health along with some of my thoughts:
1. Get you and your kids to stretch and move.
During the PHA Summit, Ivanovic led a stretching session and emphasized the importance of keeping the body limber, especially before engaging in more vigorous physical activity. While kids may at times seem like rubber bands with stomachs, get them started early with the habits of stretching and activities that can move and strengthen parts of their bodies that they may not usually use. Of course, it may be tough to get your infant do side planks, so perhaps you can cut them some slack at an early age.
2. Promote skin-to-skin contact at an early age.
Ivanovic has observed that “Lots of women choose C-sections and not to breast feed. Such practices may reduce the skin to skin contact that a child needs from a mother, especially at an early age.”
3. Help your kids realize that food can be bland.
When she was playing on the pro tour, Ivanovic said that she “ate at a lot of very bland food without sauces or much meat.” It can be easy in this era of sensory overload to want to be stimulated all the time. But eating healthy can be like a good marriage. Don’t expect it to thrill you every minute but it will provide the key things that you need and want. She added, “There are way more choices in food nowadays than when she started her tennis career. It can be lot more challenging to make right choices.”
4. Be careful about protein and energy bars.
Ivanovic warned that “protein bars and nutrition bars are often very misunderstood. They can have a lot packed in them.” She added that many people may eat them without realizing how much they are eating, “one bar can be almost half a meal.” Since these bars don’t offer the same visual cues of how much you’ve eaten, be careful when consuming them and read the labels carefully.
5. Don’t be too strict about diets. It’s OK to indulge here and there.
Ivanovic didn’t rely on some strict fad diet that required her to eat only food that began with the letter Q on Wednesdays or something like that. Instead, she said that she is a “big believer in balanced diets. As long as, in general, you are eating healthy, you shouldn’t deprive body of everything that may be unhealthy.” Doing so may actually do you more harm, “because it will affect your sense of well being. It’s OK to give in to cravings for ice cream-or pizza here and there. Cookies can be good for mental health, once in a while.” That last phrase would be a welcome meme for some.
6. Tailor your child’s diet.
She is also not a believer in once-size-fits-all diets. Kids and people are not like cars. For example, if someone “doesn’t like raw vegetables and prefers them cooked, that’s fine. You should find out what works for the person.” Even if that person was a top-ranked professional tennis player.
7. Tailor your child’s physical activity.
The same applies to physical activity. Again, it may easier to sell exercise programs that are formulas for everyone to follow. But people’s bodies and needs are different. She said., “when it comes to exercises and warm ups, not one size fits all. That’s why you have to spend time with your kids or anyone whom you are trying to get more physically active. Kids copy what parents are doing so do the physical activities together to give the right signals.”
8. Help your child realize that social media isn’t real.
Even though she participates in social media, she emphasized that she “grew up with sports and grew up outside social media. When I started my career, there was no Twitter, no Instagream. There are now different pressures and publicity around sports.” She sees how social media can distort reality. For example, she said, “I posted a picture today that was actually from yesterday, but no one can tell that.” She has observed that as her career has progressed changes with social media. “Now, everyone can criticize everyone, leaving many people discouraged. Youth, especially young girls, can struggle to find confidence. Social media can distract them from following there own hearts and their own instincts.” She is concerned about the “increases in depression and anxiety over last number of years.” She felt that such technology can be good like “helping people share lives,” but there are bad sides as well. She will endeavor to teach her son “to use good judgement and teach him the right values. Who knows what technology will exist when he gets old enough, so it will be important for him to know the right boundaries and right values in general, regardless the technology.”
9. Don’t force. Listen and encourage.
Watching her on the court, you can tell that Ivanovic wasn’t one of those programmed kids, forced to play tennis. Just take a look at this Tennis Channel segment:
Similarly, she feels that you can’t force kids to do things. “You have to be innovative,” she said. “You have to be more encouraging. You have to listen to your child and hear what he or she wants.” This may sound simple, but how many parents and bosses really listen? Even though her child has a decent chance of being a good tennis and football player, she want to give her child “opportunities to try and explore different things. It doesn’t have to be sports.”
10. Create a warmer community.
Part of her work with UNICEF in Serbia has been to “help bring program to eliminate violence in schools,” in her words. “We have been trying to bring warmer community and awareness to being nice to one another.” This emphasizes a key point. Many people behave based on the environment that surrounds them. Ivanovic managed to achieve unprecedented success, but she is an exception and succeeded despite growing up in war-torn surroundings.
All in all, Ivanovic’s life has been quite different during the past two years compared to the previous 13 since she became a professional tennis player in 2003. She is traveling a lot less and spending much more time taking care of her son. But her retirement is only a retirement from professional tennis. She’s got plenty to do in the next phase in her career and plenty of people and kids (who are people too) could benefit.