We all remember signing our first born up for little league. Wow! He's got such talent! He can catch the ball! And HIT! Visions dance in our heads: select teams, UIL Championships, college scholarships, Olympics, a high-paying professional career. It's a lot of fun to fantasize “ everyone does it.
Eventually you realize that those dreams only apply to a very small percentage of kids, and yours isn't among them. But he loves baseball, soccer, summer swim team, football, tennis and goes on to have a wonderfully ordinary childhood and an enjoyably unremarkable love of sports.
Despite your bona fide delight in your child, somewhere in the back of your mind it lingers ¦. What if ¦ I ™d pushed harder, hired a private coach, gotten more involved, was less involved “ what if?
I ™m sure logic and observation tell you that odds are pretty good things would turn out just the way they are now despite additional parental efforts. Athletics are up to the athlete “ their body, their mind, and their desire. And remember the phrase ¦ careful what you wish for.
I ™m writing about possibly raising a champion. I haven't raised Colt McCoy or Michael Phelps. But at this tenuous point in time, it is still in the realm of possibility, barring injury, teenage attitude, or any life event that can change it all in a heartbeat. The sport that chose my son is swimming. But much of how it affects our lives can be applied to any sport at a high level.
Sacrifice “ obviously!
My son sacrifices a lot. At thirteen, he is highly cognizant that his social life is not what he ™d hoped. He is released from school early to train; he doesn't get home until nearly 8pm each night and still must tackle homework. He practices at 6am on Saturdays. Friends over after school and sleepovers are few and far between.
Obviously, this sacrifice bleeds over into family life. Meals are rushed or in shifts. I spend an inordinate amount of time in the car. We plan our vacations, celebrations, etc. around the yearly rhythm of the sports season. When we vacation, we are up at 5am anyway, to train with a local team. I have to work extra hard to make sure that my son's schedule doesn't take away from the activities and desires of the rest of the family.
Being a working parent with a super-athlete is difficult. The logistics of being released early from school and daily or twice-daily practices proved to be impossible to combine with my career, so my career has been back-burnered until he drives.
Let me just say that eating 5,000 calories a day is not as easy as it sounds. Good food is a requirement for any growing kid, and I do my best to provide nutritionally dense whole foods. Increase the difficulty factor by having your child out of the house (or asleep) for all but 40 minutes in a 14+ hour period and it becomes more challenging. As I look at the coming years, his training time and his caloric needs will both increase by 25% or more. Most of this is my job, but some of it rests on him too. He eats until he's full, and then tries to eat some more. He eats a lot of stuff he doesn't really like, but know he has to.
While we are fortunate to live in an area where there are plenty of opportunities to compete, as his skill increases, he must travel farther and farther afield to compete against (or train with) the best. Sometimes with us, and sometimes without. I have accompanied him on five-day journeys where I got to see him swim a total of 93 seconds. I have NOT accompanied him on trips I term “black holes.” His ability to articulate his experience is sadly lacking, as are photos. In a nutshell, travel is expensive and stressful. But very worth it.
The Head “both of us
Achievement is thrilling, gratifying and elating. For the athlete and their staff (that would be me). Falling short can be devastating and an athlete's ability to pick up the pieces and move on is critical. To see him fail is gut wrenching. There are many roles a parent can choose to play at times like these. Mine is to hide in the bathroom. Critique is the coach's job, and false kudos from me are hollow. At thirteen he's old enough to work through it; he failed and he knows it. But he's still my baby and to watch him twist with mental agony after so much hard work is painful. I have to trust in his head ™ and hope that he doesn't see me crying too.
Keeping it all in Perspective
He's just a kid. While time and logistics dictate that the mothers of other like-minded athletes are my village I also try to spend as much time as possible hanging with other moms to help my mothering style be more like theirs and less like some of the rabid parents of super-athletes. Likewise for my son “ time spent with non-swimming friends feels more normal.
He's just a kid. Only this morning, I was shaking him awake to head to practice and he said, Mom, I ™m soooo tired. He needs to have some control over his own life and letting him choose to skip practice today will help him feel centered. I ™ll mumble excuses to his coach and pay the 17yr old neighbor kid to kick his butt around the gym for a few hours this afternoon to make up for it.
He's just a kid. But he has big dreams and some amazing opportunities. The weight of that, how much he owns it concerns me sometimes. Balancing that against his recent invitation to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, right now it seems worth it. But ask me again when I am hiding in the bathroom while he is fighting to hide his tears from his coach, or gamely getting back in the pool after throwing up, and I ™ll let you know.