Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Parenting Young Athletes - Part 1

Like most people, I am inspired by the amazing accomplishments of athletes who have achieved excellence and world class status in sports. Watching an Olympic event can bring tears to my eyes as I realize the possibilities inherent in human talent and commitment. For an athlete to become part of an Olympic team and compete on a world stage takes dedication to a single goal beyond what many of us have or are even witness to very often. It is truly amazing what can be achieved through focus and commitment.

I am even more likely, brought to tears, by watching my own children perform in their selected sports. It is, naturally, the modest performances of my own, that strikes a cord of awe and pride most deeply in the heart of their mom. The background knowledge of the support and love required to even attempt greatness in athletics brings home certain universal aspects of being human and what it really takes to achieve a dream.

At bat.

We currently have three serious athletes in our immediate family. One baseball player and two gymnasts. Our daughter is a gymnast and we are also currently hosting an international student gymnast. As parents, we walk a fine and demanding line of supporting their pursuits in sports and helping them achieve a balance in their lives.

Our goals for our children include taking into account all other areas of life and achievement, most importantly long term health and happiness. While sports participation can contribute to those ends, it can also overtake them. It can displace them, distort them or focus them more sharply.

As a mother of young athletes, I am a witness to the daily effort needed for even the most basic involvement in a sport. It takes a committed family to enable a young person to follow the dream of athletic participation, at any level. What it takes for the highest levels of achievement is incomprehensible to me at times, when just getting my child to the field or the gym requires me to do back flips (metaphorically) given the other responsibilities of raising children and maintaining a household.

USAG Eastern Nationals 2016

Sports achievement, requires first and foremost a committed, driven athlete and a supportive family. It also requires a team of knowledgeable and talented coaches and athletic trainers.

There can be the need for expertise in sports related counseling sessions, injury prevention or injury recovery. On occasion, there is the need for physical therapists, sports doctors and surgeons. High level sports participation requires the constant struggle of single purpose against the odds of circumstance and available resources.

High achievement requires a heavily resourced band wagon.

As sports parents, we have the responsibility of providing healthy nutrition on a daily basis, providing the required apparel for practice, games and competitions, (there is lots of laundry), scheduling, driving, oversight of academic achievement and creating an environment of support that includes the opportunity for rest and downtime. The sourcing of all of this falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents, to find, provide, utilize and fund. High achievement isn't cheap.

Healthy daily nutrition is a must.

There are times, when it is difficult to address the needs of other individual family members while supporting a driven young athlete. For the athlete, there is a constant demand of staying focused and committed while living a life of balance. For parents, it requires the constant outlay of resources to the endeavor. In some families this may place limitations on other activities for siblings. Maintaining an intense practice schedule and allotting the resources for it takes creativity while continuing to consider the needs of other family members. For some sports, such as gymnastics, the longest time off from practice in an entire calendar year is only one week. Trying to juggle that in a family of athletes with working parents, who have employer dictated vacation weeks, has meant short and sweet family vacations that are more accurately described as extended weekends.

What really matters...

As we continue supporting our children as athletes, I have come to realize that for our family, the discipline that is most important is beyond all of the athletic training. For the young athlete with high aspirations, there is the need to focus so much on ones own pursuit that the consideration of the others living with and around them can be easily overlooked. It is important to me to emphasize the value of family, friends and loved ones for their own sake. I try in word and deed, to remind our driven athletes of the value of others in their lives, beyond the contribution they make to the personal sports goals of the athlete.

Wherever our children end up in their athletic adventures, whether it be culminated in high school sports participation or beyond, hopefully their participation and learning will contribute to the growth of more well rounded, disciplined and aware people (parents included). The real goal in sports participation is the growth of people who know what it takes to love and support others, are better able to contribute to the well being and lives of others and to effectively improve the world in which they live.

For an amazing look into the gymnastics life of Olympic champion McKayla Maroney as she reflects on her career, watch her fascinating interview on GymCastic.

Or for a very personal and revealing coming of age story set in the demanding world of elite gymnastics read Chalked Up by Jennifer Sey. Available on amazon.

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