Years ago, I worked with a woman I’ll call Janet who had sat down to watch the Olympics with her then 6 year old daughter. Her daughter was glued to the television watching the women gymnasts, and when the Olympics were over, she declared she, too, wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. Like any good mother, Janet enrolled her daughter in gymnastics, not expecting much but a way for her daughter to pass the time and learn a new skill.
When I knew Janet six years after that, her daughter was taking gymnastic classes several hours a day, in the early morning and after school, and Janet, who had been a homemaker, took on two part-time jobs to help support her child’s dream.
Every two years when the Olympics come around, children watch and decide that they, too, want to be Olympic athletes. As you watch the Olympics, here are a few things to keep in mind if your child decides to start a new sport.
- Start slowly. There is no need to run out and sign your child up with the best coach. Start at the local level, which will be much cheaper. Maybe your local community center offers classes. Start your child there. If she does end up loving her newfound sport, then consider moving her to more rigorous courses at a location specializing in her sport.
- Keep her well rounded. Don’t let your child focus solely on one sport too early in her life. Olympic medal winner Michael Phelps began swimming at age 7 as a way to deal with his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was involved in many other sports until age 11 when his coach told him he had the potential to qualify for the next Olympic games.
- Don’t take on more than your family finances can handle. While every parent wants to help their children pursue their dreams, don’t take on more than your family can handle. If you focus on one child’s Olympic dreams, your time with your other children can suffer. Also, keep in mind that very few athletes who train to be Olympians actually make it to the games, and even fewer win medals. I often think of Janet and her family’s sacrifice and wonder about the pressure it must have put on her daughter to perform and excel.
- Make sure the dream is your child’s, not yours. Television is permeated with parents who are pushing their children and trying to live vicariously through them. Dance Moms and Toddlers & Tiaras come to mind. Make sure that you are not one of those parents. Your child should have the right to quit if she wants to as well as to pursue her dream, if it is her dream.
Many children love watching the Olympics, and often it sparks an interest in many young children to start a sport. Encourage his need to explore extracurricular activities, but don’t feel the need to have him train several hours a day and begin to dream he is the next Michael Phelps.