Golden Child

Your kid wants to compete in the Olympics: a parental crash course in survival

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    Stefan Slater

With the Winter Olympics right around the corner, parents throughout the South Bay are probably starting to mull over that oft-asked question: Could my child be an Olympian? The short answer: Most likely, no. 

Even if your child is a prodigy in the pool or on the slopes, he/she probably won’t have what it takes to be considered the best in their respective sport. The odds just aren’t in their favor. 

But let’s just assume that your child is actually that good. Teachers, coaches and even random strangers are all in agreement—this kid has the raw talent needed to be a true Olympic athlete. 

And here’s the real kicker: Your child dreams of standing on that medalists podium. It’s what they crave—it’s their one true goal in life. In short, they WANT to be an Olympian, and they’re prepared to WORK for it.

So what’s next? After consulting several South Bay Olympians, we’ve constructed a short “crash course” survival list of what you—as a parent—should expect to do when your child starts down the Olympic path.


1. Helicopter Parents Need Not Apply

“Parents need to recognize that they aren’t the coach, and their role is truly to support—even if that means being kept out of the know sometimes,” says Rebecca Soni, six-time Olympic medalist and professional competitive swimmer. At the end of the day, this is your child’s competitive journey—not yours. You’ll be taking on the support role only, as it’s ultimately up to your child to carry the burden of years worth of training and competition. 

If you push your child into something that he or she doesn’t truly love, expect a quick loss of interest. In other words, your job is simple: You’re there to root your child on through the bad and the good, the successes and the failures. 


2. It’s a Life-Changing Commitment

“You might as well be a part of the team,” says former professional volleyball player and Olympic gold medalist Eric Fonoimoana. “Parents just pretty much put their lives on hold.” In terms of playing the supporting role (e.g., paying for coaches and training, transportation, cooking meals before early-morning workouts), a parent’s expected level of commitment is monumental. 

“These days, parents have to be partners,” says Holly McPeak, former professional volleyball player and three-time Olympian. “The financial commitment is huge.” While you may not be swimming laps in the pool or tossing around a discus or two, you will be there for every training session and competition.

You will have to sacrifice your own time, energy and expendable income for years to come. However, once your child achieves his or her goal of becoming an Olympian, well, saying it will be all worth it is sort of an understatement. 


3. Hitting the Wall

Your child, at some point in his or her athletic career, will have doubts. He/she might bomb a few competitions or have a string of bad days. So as a parent, be prepared for probable tear-filled days. 

The first step is to make sure your child is pursuing his/her Olympic goal for the right reason. “You have to make sure they’re passionate about the sport,” says Holly. If your child has the talent, desire and love for what they do, all you can do is act as a safe harbor. Your job is to help them buckle down and persevere and make sure they’re ready for the next competitive obstacle. 

Furthermore, it’s a good idea to help your child find a way to deal with challenges or doubts in a constructive way. Eric, for instance, mentions that whenever he had a rough day at practice, he’d finish his work and then head home and go straight to bed—even if the sun was still up—so he’d be fresh and ready for the next day. 


4. It’s a Balancing Act

Your child will have to balance school, training and a social life, and that’s going to be difficult. Your role will be to help achieve that balance, especially in a healthy, constructive way. 

“In college,” says Rebecca, “my coach gave me a piece of advice. ‘There are three things that will fight for your time: school, swimming and social life. But you can only be really good at two of them. Choose wisely.’” 

You’ll have to help your child choose from time to time, and that choice may not make you very popular. Be prepared for the inevitable repercussions of being responsible.


5. There Will Be Failures and Successes

“If they don’t make it, they’ll learn how to deal with success and failure,” says Eric. Even with a wonderful support base, excellent training and considerable talent, there’s a chance your child will not make it to the Olympics. Furthermore, even if your child does make it to the Olympics, he/she might not even place. 

So your role as a parent is to help your child learn from failures and successes. Discipline, commitment and a positive work ethic can help a child accomplish so much more outside sports, and the lessons they’ll learn from years of training can help them become responsible adults. 

Good luck, parents. Let’s bring home a few more medals for the South Bay!

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