Laila Ali, a world champion fighter in her own right, is the daughter of legendary fighting champ Muhammad Ali and wife to former NFL star Curtis Conway, but that doesn't mean she wants her two kids—7-year-old Curtis Jr. and 4-year-old Sydney—to follow in the family's footsteps.
Recently, Ali has partnered with the United States Tennis Association, and we had the chance to chat with her about the sport, and how she encourages her kids to lead healthy, active lifestyles while still letting them follow their own path.
Parents.com: How did you get involved with the United States Tennis Association?
Laila Ali: I've always been an advocate for keeping kids and families active and healthy by proper nutrition and exercise, so the USTA was a great fit for me. What I love about them is that they're making it easier and more fun for kids to get into the game and stay in the game. They have bigger balls that are made of foam, so they're slower and easier to hit. The racquets are smaller too, and they're really focusing on tennis being fun, as opposed to being so technical. When I was growing up, I started playing tennis and I didn't stay with it, but I think that if I would've had the opportunity to play with new equipment that is available now, I would've stuck with it.
P: You're a former boxer, your husband is a former NFL player.... Is everyone in the house very involved in sports?
LA: It's funny because we actually don't pressure our kids when it comes to playing organized sports. We do understand the benefits of sports, so we want them to stay active and participate in sports, but we don't make them feel like they have to be athletes because their parents are athletes. We believe in seeing what it is your kids are interested in and nurturing that. My son has played soccer, baseball, and basketball, but he seems to be more into building and technology and things like that, so we're just going to support him in whatever it is he wants to do.
P: How do you encourage your kids to live healthy and active lifestyles?
LA: I think it's important as parents to be good role models. My husband and I are active—we don't play sports anymore, but we both live a healthy lifestyle. I teach my kids about eating foods from the Earth, about clean eating, and understanding that food doesn't come from a package or isn't made in a factory. My daughter is really starting to take an interest in sports now as well, even tennis, so I'm going to support her in that, but really it's just about making [a healthy lifestyle] part of the conversation, making it a part of everyday life, and explaining the benefits of being healthy to them.
P: What's your own exercise routine like? And how do you stay motivated with such a busy home life?
LA: I definitely have to make it a priority, and when I say that I mean schedule it in. As soon as my kids get off to school, I pretty much work out. For the most part, I work out five days a week and I like to mix it up because I get bored easily. I have a home gym, so I'll do circuit training, hit my heavy bag for 15 minutes, get on my StairMaster for 15 minutes, do some sprinting on my treadmill, or do some free weights and push-ups and sit-ups. I like to sweat and I like to work hard, so I usually do a high-intensity workout, especially when I don't have a lot of time. It helps give me the energy I need throughout the rest of the day.
P: Your dad didn't want you to box. Is there anything you wouldn't want your children to pursue?
LA: I'm definitely not going to encourage them to play football or other contact sports. I would love to see my daughter play tennis. You don't have the wear and tear on your body, it's a sport that they can play for the rest of their lives, and it teaches good sportsmanship by coming to the net, shaking the hand of the person that you played against whether you won or lost. I love that character that tennis builds. And there's other sports as well they can play, if they want to go in the sports direction, where I wouldn't have to worry about them getting hurt.
P: What's been your biggest parenting fail?
LA: I think that sometimes I don't push my kids enough or challenge them enough. My husband's better at that. For example, if my son is supposed to read 15 pages for homework and he's not in the mood, sometimes I'll say "Okay, you can just read 13." Instead of doing that, I need to actually have him not only read the 15 pages, but maybe read 20 more. Kids are more capable than what we realize sometimes, and I think that if I don't start making changes soon it could be a big parenting fail.
P: What's the best parenting advice you've ever received?
I used to ask my children questions and then give them ideas for an answer—"What's wrong? Are you upset because of this? Or is it because of that?"—instead of just being quiet, letting them think their own thoughts through, come up with their own answer, and tell me how they feel. I don't know if I read it in a book or my friend told me, but I started being more conscious of that. I think it's really important to let your children express themselves.