We saw a group of excited kids in funky patriotic sweaters excited to walk into the stadium. We saw Sage throw down a trick that he hadn’t even practiced, but landed him one of the first medals of the Games. We watched a just-turned-15 year old Russian girl skate as if she didn’t know she was supposed to make it at least looked like she trained, or worked hard since she made it look so incredibly easy and beautiful. We watched Ashley Wagner gain redemption and a couple of ice dancers, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, move together as one as they’ve done since they were small children. We saw sweat, spittle, pain, ecstacy, cheers and tears. But I’ve been picking up on a few other things that may have not been so obvious. They are simple things, not rocket-science. They are applicable, not magical. But they’re threads that are common in the weave of an Olympian; of anyone who becomes extraordinary. What can parents learn?
1. FOUR. 4. I heard this number over and over. During interviews with athletes, it was the age they were introduced to their passion; their sport. One was taken to a mountain to snowboard, another, to skating, another watched the Olympics and said, “that’s what I want to do”…
Parents: Allow your kids see and taste and try everything and anything when they’re 3, 4, 7 years old. Don’t over-protect, don’t limit, don’t shelter, don’t ignore, don’t stow them away in a classroom. Take them into the world and have fun exploring with them. Be a tour guide and introduce them to everything you can see and do around you. And yes, this requires parents to choose to invest in their children; to make them a priority not by being permissive and indulgent resulting in prima donna’s, but by focusing on doing what’s right and best for them. Often this means our personal career, our satisfaction as adults, becomes raising the children we chose to bring into this world over pursuing other personal successes.
2. PASSION. Every Olympian loves, loves, loves what they do. You hear it in their tone and when they describe their story. They’ve latched onto what captured their imagination and couldn’t be stopped. They still don’t have limits. Their parents didn’t coerce or force or manipulate or orchestrate to turn their child into a phenom. In fact, these Olympians needed to be reined in a bit by their parents to insist they come inside for a meal, sleep…warm up so they wouldn’t get frostbite…again. Olympians have a deep passion within them. They love what they do. They love the process of excelling in what they love to do. There’s a tenacity, a grit, a determination to go and go and go again. They have a compulsion to set goals and see them become reality and a craving to see how much they can do and how far they can go.
Parents: You cannot manufacture passion. Everyone has something that grabs their attention. Explore as much as possible and fan the flames. Pushing or pulling your child in a direction you dictate only puts your child on a fast-track to missing what they were meant to do. Being externally motivated by your insistance will only cause a train wreck physically and emotionally later when they rebel and walk away. It’s best to allow them to discover who they are, create the space and strength to center them on their own internal compass. At best ask questions: What do you want to try? What do you enjoy most? Do you think you can….? Why don’t you try…? Make it normal to pursue something they love, use their natural strengths to excel and push to their greatest potential.
3. ME vs WE. Olympians catch a unique fever. Over and over, I hear that they are fueled to take their passion and natural talent beyond what they thought possible, to push the envelope of what they think they can do and redefine the sport, to represent their country well. Bode Miller said he always races on the verge of out-of-control to the edge of himself. Shawn White literally changed the height of the half-pipe because he kept forcing it to be built higher as he jumped to increasingly crazy heights. As the athletes walked out into the stadium, the team instantly bonded in patriotism and pride. These Olympians roll in the satisfaction of being a part of something bigger than themselves. Their dreams go beyond themselves.
Parents: Help your child know the difference of when it’s right to do what’s best for them as an individual, and applaud the efforts to participate in events bigger than one that require them to do what’s right for a team. Celebrate taking appropriate risks to see how far they can go, helping them adjust and stretch further so they always know that excelling comes after taking a risk to go faster, higher stronger. Point out how maximizing their potential isn’t just good for them, but adding to something bigger than them too.
4. PARENTS. Every Olympian has a parent or two that surrounds them with support. Their parents don’t limit, squash, or tell them they can’t… They told them they believe in their potential. It may not have even been said directly, but shown in providing freedom to try, the safety to risk, encouragement by standing quietly watching with a content smile, patching cuts, soothing sore muscles, providing never-ending meals, driving miles and miles. They make sure they have what they need to move forward.
Parents: In order for a child to move forward, to become all they can possibly become, they need to know their base, their parents, are solid and secure so they can risk what they do and know their parents will be there to love and accept them, encourage them, guide and assist them. They need to know their parents will be there, behind them to catch a fall and ahead to smooth a way when there are obstacles ahead. No matter what they do, your love and support needs to be the steady and secure thing. It can’t be given when they succeed and you are proud and withdrawn in disgust if they fail. It’s a very special and unique partnership. Be proud of their efforts and pursuit, not the outcome.
5. PIVOTAL MOMENT: Every Olympian has a story that includes struggle, pain, difficulties, and challenges. In every case, there was at least one huge obstacle that threatened to stop them. JR Celski sliced his leg during competition so badly his life was in jeopardy. He fought back and is in Sochi competing as an Olympian again. Financial mountains, devestating injuries, problems that weren’t in their control, coaches that failed, teammates that caused havoc… There wasn’t one story where the road to the Olympics was a walk in the park. In every case, Olympic families had monumental issues where it would have been legitimate to walk away. But they didn’t. They figured it out. They adapted and overcame. They made it happen.
Parents: Don’t lead your children to believe life is a microwave, 30 minute sitcom. Life is a series of ups/downs, successes and failures, challenges and rewards. It’s neither all good and easy, nor bad and difficult. It’s a ride to navigate it all. Help them to take what’s before them head-on and deal in the best way they can. They need to learn to respond realistically and well. Don’t rescue your children. Let them push through natural consequences, think, problem solve and take responsibility for their choices. Don’t let them quit when it’s hard, but encourage them to persevere even in little things. Encourage them, “You can do this…”. And when you hit the biggest obstacle all, don’t stop. Sometimes the hardest push is the last one.
We’re all an Olympian at something. There’s potential in all of us waiting to have it revealed. Reveal your child’s greatness..
<P = Z x C5 x E
- Z = Explore and discover your child’s passion and natural strengths and fuel them.
- C5 = Make the process more important than the result, developing the character more than the skill.
- E = Invest in your children. You are the only parents they will have. Build them from the inside out. Create the space they need to maximize their potential.