Monday, August 11, 2008

Sacrifices and Rewards of Parenting an Athlete

Sometimes I meet parents who are exasperated by ALL of the effort that raising children requires. You can see it in their eyes or hear it in their voices - they have that “I-never-realized-what-a-more-than-full-time-commitment-this-child-rearing-is” look about them. They've got the “we have no time for ourselves” woes. While I'm not sure I can offer any solace, or tell them it's going to get any easier, I will say that with the right attitude, your child rearing days are definitely worth the time and energy spent.

With eight kids spread over 18 years, the lives of myself and my spouse are totally consumed at times by schoolwork, athletic practice schedules, class projects, school performances and the kids’ social schedules. Naturally, our kids could not all go to the same schools or love the same sport. We have had children participate in soccer, swimming, and gymnastics, all at a high level and all at the same time. It sometimes required us to be in three different places each night. Even today it continues, as our youngest daughter had a 7:30am soccer try-out last Saturday and then a parent meeting to prepare for the upcoming season. I can think of a lot of places my spouse would have rather been on a beautiful Saturday morning than standing on a soccer field.

I strongly believe that parents need to find time to pursue their own interests and social schedule. I am a firm believer in “Date Nights” - but more about that in a future blog. Today, I want to focus on the rewards of parenting an athlete. With the spectacle of the Olympics dominating our television screens, it gives us a chance to reflect on how much support each of these athletes receive from their parents and family members over the course of their lives. The television commentators are continually showing the faces of proud parents sitting on the sidelines. How did these athletes reach this pinnacle of success?

Certainly, the athlete starts with a great internal desire and love for the sport they are playing. But we have to realize that they were also nurtured and supported emotionally and financially by many others, most often family members. Now, let me be clear, am I saying this level of parental commitment is worth it only if your child can reach the Olympic level? Absolutely not!

The person in our family who came closest to the Olympics was my spouse, Kathy, when she competed in the swimming Olympic Trials, placing 13th. Our older kids and their spouses all excelled in athletics at the high school and collegiate level. Today they are great parents, spouses and leaders in their chosen fields of business, and I believe their participation in athletics is a factor in their successes. The discipline, leadership skills and self-confidence they learned on the athletic field are never far from the surface. The support they received from us, their parents, as they pursued their athletic dreams also shapes how they are raise their own children.

So as you drive your children to that weekly or daily athletic practice, music lesson, or Kumon, or swim lessons, think of it as fertilizer. You are nurturing your child's future by your commitment to their growth and development. People have asked us over the years. "How do you drive to so many practices at such terrible times of day all over the state?" After much soul-searching, Kathy and I have come up with this answer: If we really thought about it or tried to do what was logical or reasonable, our kids would have never played at club level sports. You just do it. You just get up and drive and schedule and get the kids there and get them fed and don't whine about it. Find a good book for the sidelines, feed the other child on a blanket by the field or take a walk with the baby strapped on your back while practice happens!

Kathy has a cousin who shares a thought of the day, everyday. Here is today’s story from Cousin Billy K, and the inspiration for today's blog:

At the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, Bill Havens was a member of the United States canoe team. As the Olympics neared, Bill realized that his wife would give birth to their first child about the time that he would be competing in the Olympic Games. Bill had a dilemma - should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife's side when their baby was born....or should he withdraw from the USA team and remain with his family?

Bill's wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, competing in the Olympics was his life-long dream. Bill felt conflicted but, after much soul-searching, decided to withdraw from the Olympics and stay at home to support his wife when their baby was born. Being at his wife's side during the birth of their new baby was now his highest priority - even higher than going to the Olympics.

The USA canoe team won the gold medal in Paris. Bill's wife was so late in giving birth to their first child that Bill could have competed in the Olympics and returned home in time to be with her when she gave birth. People thought, "What a shame." But Bill had no regrets. For the rest of his life, he knew he had made the right decision by putting his family first.

Twenty-eight years later, Bill received a cablegram from his son Frank who was competing in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. The cablegram read: "Dad, I won. I'm bringing home the gold medal you lost while waiting for me to be born."

Frank had won the canoeing gold medal his father gave up so he could be there when Frank to be born. Both father and son were Olympic champions of the heart.

So as you parent in the days and weeks and years to come remember Bill Havens who planted seeds of dedication and effort in 1924 that bore Olympic Gold in 1952!

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