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Could You Have an Olympian On Your Hands?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Many parents enroll their kids in gymnastics, track, ice hockey, downhill skiing and more when they are under 5 years old. By 8, most kids have shown their parents their particular athletic giftedness.

They find their child’s talents and offer them lessons, coaches, you name it to give their children an opportunity to excel. That’s if the kids want to and this is the million-dollar question. Because what ultimately counts is not the parent’s drive, but the child’s drive to excel. Most parents don’t like that at all.

Here are a few ways that you can tell if your child really has the whole package- the talent, desire, personality, and heart to get to the Olympics.

Here are a few key questions that you must be able to answer in the affirmative.

Is your child really talented?

First and foremost, you have to know that your child is really gifted in a sport. Since most parents are convinced that their children are gifted, it’s best to ask a coach or two and look at the numbers. A good coach can evaluate a 10-year-old and determine if the child’s talent exceeds that of her peers. Equally important is to look at the victories and losses your child has accrued in a sport. Is your child really shining at gymnastic tournaments or ski races? Or do you find yourself saying “he has the talent but just isn’t motivated?” If the latter is the case, he really may not have an unusual talent. Sorry.

Does your child have the heart of an elite athlete?

The elite athletes I have cared for are unstoppable. At 10, they beg their parents to get them to the pool by 5 am. At 13, they are finding rides to state tournaments whether or not their parents can accompany them. These are the kids who want to excel badly. They love to swim, work out at the gym and get upset if their parents rein them in. If you are prodding, bribing or coaxing your child to work out, don’t. He doesn’t want the Olympics.

Is your child willing to give up other activities, sports, friends or family time to train?

If your 15-year-old complains constantly about giving up time with friends to train, give in. By the mid-teen years, athletes separate into two groups and you can’t determine which group they choose. It has to come from deep within them- not you. This means that if your 15-year-old is still willing to skip family vacations, outings with friends or give up other sports in order to train, he’s in the running. But he’s far from there yet. If not, let up on your child and don’t push her. The most common time I see kids burn out form sports that their parents push them to play is sophomore year in high school. If parents push them past this, everyone loses. Kids rebel and parents wonder why their kids don’t want to talk to them.

Will your child take time off from training then go back without a fight?

 All athletes need to periodically rest their bodies in order to recover. This means that they need a few weeks during the year to back off from the sport. Even elite athletes like to rest but even some of them don’t want to rest.

The key to determining if your child is a potential Olympian is to see how he/she responds to returning to training.

Yes, it’s grueling but those who might make it to the Olympics go back to training pretty easily. They don’t grumble all day to their parents.

Here’s why I believe that it’s important for all parents to review these few guidelines:

At some point, most parents will be convinced that their child has the ability to excel at a specific sport and they begin pushing their kids at an early age. Don’t do this. Enroll your kids in a variety of different sports and see if they like one or two. If so, then go ahead and encourage them to stay the course for a while and if you see their interest waning, ride with it for a while to see if it is permanent. If so, don’t keep pushing. You will frustrate yourself and they and your relationship will become strained.

Remember one thing: even the majority of the kids who meet the above four criteria don’t get to the Olympics. They may play a college sport at a Division 1 school and enjoy that.

I have watched many parents become disappointed over the years by children who push back and say “no thanks, Mom and Dad- I don’t want to keep going with my sport.” This is the overwhelming majority of kids. Even most teens who spend weekends away from families year in and year out to play travel hockey, soccer, you name it, don’t go on to play in college. And how sad it is that all of those weekends they could have made wonderful memories with their families but they didn’t.

So dear parents, please keep your wits about you when it comes to your kids and sports. You may well have an Olympian on your hands and if you do- let him/her show you that. No matter what you want, how much money you spend or time you sacrifice with him, remember that time with your child is too precious to waste on pushing him to become something he’ll probably give up by the time college comes.

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