How to fan the flame.
A childhood friend of mine was an extraordinary diver. From a very young age, he improved every time he stepped onto the board. The record book shows that he podiumed at Nationals five years in a row and claimed several national titles. Yet at age 13, he told his mother, “F— this, Mom. I f&*^-ing hate diving. I’m done.” This future aquatic Olympian took his considerable athletic skills from the pool onto the soccer pitch, and played varsity soccer for a major D-1 program.
What went wrong? His young man’s Olympic dream became his mother’s dream. When that happened, ka-boom went the dream..
RULE #1- Recognize the spark.
The subtext: Realize that what you wish your kid would love might not be what your kid loves. You put your daughter on skates. You start hanging around the rink. You’re seeing sequins. Your daughter is thinking Mini-mites. And good Lord, she wants to go between the pipes. You give your son a soccer ball. One week later, you hear a thunk-splack coming from behind the shed. You stroll over. A soccer goal is duct-taped to the side of the shed. The aluminum siding is demolished from six hours per day of shooting practice.
RULE #2- Who’s dream is it, anyway?
If your kid’s athletic achievements bring you, the parent, more joy and satisfaction than they provide for the kid, don’t buy any plane tickets for Oslo or Tokyo just yet. Think back to when you made some adolescent choices. Did you stick with a bunch of science and math classes because Dad thought it would be good for you to be an engineer? Or did you dive headlong into your dream, go to journalism school, and become a sports writer for your local paper?
My son was born in 1992; year Tommy Moe won two Alpine skiing medals in the Lillehammer Games. Tommy made the cover of Sports Illustrated. I hung the cover next to his crib. Aaron chose tennis a few years later. I got him a Roger Federer poster.
- Don’t let the dream become a nightmare.
RULE #3- It’s a family affair.
Take a look at the family backgrounds of some of our finest skiing Olympians; Bode Miller, Christin Cooper, Ted Ligety, the Mahre twins; Phil and Steve. For all of these families, skiing was a thing the family did. Mom and Dad patrolled or taught at the local hill, and the ski hill is where the kids grow up. The kids started to race because it was fun. With success, they climbed the ladder. In our family, if it was Friday, Mort and Lois loaded up the station wagon, and we headed north to the ski hill. The Stanley kids grew up racing, raced throughout college, and even today, we love to rip it up. Our kids all ski and race and ride. Maintain the fun. Moms and Dads- lead by example. Get on out there, whatever the sport, and the kids will follow.
- Build some memories. Make it a family tradition.
RULE #4 – Keep it fun.
It doesn’t matter what the sport, keep it fun. Be silly. Be goofy. Have a lollypop at the bottom of the hill for your kid, or some skittles when the hockey game is over and the kid comes off the ice. There will be (too many) sports parents out there who have their game faces on all day long. Good for them. You are the safe home base, Mom and Dad. If the pressure stays on; at practice, on game-day, at the dinner table, something will give. That something will be your kid’s love for the game.
Remember that great (and apocryphal) Freud quote? “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Kicking a soccer ball around, or batting around a tennis ball, or going for skate doesn’t have to be practice. It’s just some fun stuff to do with your kid.
- The definition of the transitive verb RECREATE? To give new life or freshness to
RULE #5- Focus on the process.
In the 1980s, the Swiss National Ski foundation did a study. They rounded up a bunch of six year old kids and offered the parents free training, gear, and lift tickets in exchange for their children’s participation in a long-term study. For the first two years, all the kids trained the same way- they skied a lot. Mostly, they played “Follow-the-leader” with their coaches. Fun stuff- going fast, learning how to control their speed, jumping off little cornices; the focus was to put in fun miles all over the mountain. At age eight, they split the kids up. One group started serious training; running gates in a very structured environment. The other group kept on doing what they were doing. Whilst they ventured onto more advanced terrain, and were pushed to improve, they essentially just skied lots and had fun. At age eleven, the groups were re-united. Any guesses as to which group was far superior in race results, and skier retention, at age fourteen, an age at which young athletic bodies are ready for serious training?
- Encourage effort. Celebrate success.
RULE #6 – Find a good coach.
It does not matter how skilled you are as a coach. It does not matter how skilled you were as a player. If your child has serious sporting gifts- dominates all the local competition, is a consistent winner at and above his/her age group, plays in an elite level league, is recruited by higher level leagues- you need to put your child in the hands of a professional coach. As a coach, I had a far different relationship with my athletes than did their parents. As a parent of a gifted tennis player, my son’s coach was his coach, not his Dad. It may take a village, but if you have a gifted kid, it takes a coach. Your kid will need you as a sports parent. S/he does not need you as a coach.
Here are a few wiki links- people who thought they should coach their kids. Marv and Jim and Marc didn’t set out to be bat-crap crazy sports parent-coaches. Read the wikis and weep.
Todd and Marv Marinovich – USA Football
Mary and Jim Pierce – Tennis
Sean and Marc O’Hair – PGA golf
- Don’t be those guys.
RULE #7 –Support, Don’t Push.
Such a balancing act, this rule #7. I was a soccer goalkeeper. I had some skills and was recruited by a few colleges. My parents had to walk that line with me as a teenager. It was easier for my Dad. As a teen athlete himself, he was consumed by the same kind of crazy-ass fire in his hair that he passed onto his son. But my mom needed to learn a whole new skill set. If I played poorly, and we lost, she had to avoid the false cheerleading that teenagers hate. She had to learn how to stay out of the way whilst I sulked and tortured myself with insane work-outs in some sort of athletic penance. Then Mom had to come to the games, and sit in the stands, and listen. Because as every sports fan knows, when the goalie makes a real mistake, it goes up on the scoreboard. Dad? He mostly paced.
Win or lose, good performance or not, parents need to be the solid and reliable foundation. You cannot allow your mood to be swayed (at least when your athlete is around) by your child’s performance. While you cannot allow tantrums after a bad performance, you can encourage a cooling off period, after a tough loss. It’s okay for your kid to shut the bedroom door for a while. When you head upstairs with the plate of cookies, it is fine to knock on the door, say “Oreos and milk,” set the plate down, and then walk away.
Sue Novara-Reber won several national sprint cycling championships, and two World Sprint cycling championships. As she put it whilst we were on a training ride one day, “I like winning. Winning’s fine. But I hate losing more. I really hate losing.”
- Even at a young age, winning and losing matter. Respect that.
RULE #8 – It’s all about balance.
Sochi -230 London -530
Do the math. 230+530 = 760. In 2012 and 2014, just 760 USA athletes earned the right to call themselves Olympians.
Roughly 18,000 men and women in the USA graduated with MD and DO degrees in 2012.
To succeed as an athlete at the highest level takes obsession and stubbornness, money and time, discipline and self-sacrifice, an off-the-charts tolerance for physical and mental pain, plus an evangelical level of singlemindedness. As a parent, your job is to remember that the odds are overwhelmingly against your kid making the big-time. Grades count. Good behavior counts. Life must go on.
- Support the dream. Keep your feet on the ground.