The newly crowned Australian Open champion and world number two grew up as the daughter of a champion soccer player and national level gymnast. ''I know in our situation, because my dad was a little famous, that it was a little hard sometimes,'' she explains.
''People have a pre-judgment and that's something that I felt when I was younger and I used to get teased in school and it was very bad at some points in my grammar school."
Clijsters experience is not uncommon. Elite athletes, despite the fame and fortune, often struggle with different aspects of their life. A team of Australian sports psychologists researched this topic by interviewing Australian Olympic Gold Medallists. (Life After Winning Gold: Experiences of Australian Olympic Gold Medallists. The Sport Psychologist, 12 (2), 1998. Jackson, Dover & Mayocchi.) Their aim was to see how the Olympic victory impacted their life.
The athletes reported positives such as opportunities and material gains, recognition and a sense of achievement. However, like Clijsters, they reported significant negatives associated with their profile. Many of these athletes reported difficulties in coping with their success and profile.
One athlete said, "It [the gold medal] turned me very confused in many situations. I wasn't able to get back to the meat and potatoes and common sense approach to life that I had before... I was basically running around chasing my tail for six years and being unproductive in that time."
Elite athletes, like Clijsters, have increased expectations and pressures placed on them. Champion athletes can handle tough situations but it can still take its toll. The tall poppy syndrome - being put on a pedestal only to be cut down because you stand above the rest, can make it hard for athletes and their families to do the "normal" things in life.
Clijsters commented, ''I didn't finish school, I wasn't able to do the usual birthday parties and all that stuff. I never did anything like that because I was playing tennis and doing a lot of travelling in Europe doing the under-12s and under-14s (tournaments).''
Her experience has motivated her to try to bring up her daughter, Jada, in a "normal" childhood way. The whole phenomenon has motivated sports administrators to look at ways to support athletes with these pressures and give a broader dimension to life. Sports chaplains have been part of this journey. These "people carers" don't just care for the athlete and the performance they produce, but they care for the whole person: their physical, emotional and spiritual well being.
Well-Being Australia founder, Prof. Mark Tronson, founded sports chaplaincy in Australia along with the Basil Sellers athlete respite centres at Moruya and Tweed Heads. Today sports chaplains provide a vital ministry to many elite sports such as AFL, NRL, motor sport, AIS etc.
They are an active reminder that we are more than just flesh and blood we can pound into shape. But we are made in the image of God to know Him and bring Him praise.