Saturday, August 11, 2012

Olympic question: Would you encourage your kids to go for the gold?

I've been AWOL the past couple weeks because of something that happens only every couple years: the Olympics. I watch no other sports, but I'm an Olympics junkie.

Fortunately, we have a Tivo this year, so I can record what I like and fast forward through the less captivating (to me) events.

Did you know there's a sport where two men kneel to paddle a canoe? That one made me giggle.

We don't look at all silly. We're athletes, dang it.
And I find that water polo action is best on fast forward, though I do like to see aggressive women and men in goofy hats that tie under the chin like a baby bonnet. (Have they considered hook-and-loop tape, or snaps?)

water polo guy
I will drown you! Stop laughing!

And I have to admire this Chilean gymnast's confidence to rock that 'stache:

Tomas Gonzalez Chilean gymnast
I will romance you with my back handsprings.

My favorite summer Olympics event is pretty obvious: women's artistic gymnastics. There's a sport I follow not at all the rest of the four years in between Olympics, but get excited about every time the Games roll around again.

And then Sam had to go and spoil it for me this year.

"Do you think it's odd," he mused off-handedly, "that we revere athletes in a sport who are required to be adolescent girls?"

Suddenly it all seemed so … sordid.

It got me thinking, as it always does now that I'm a parent: Would I encourage (or allow) my kids to be Olympic athletes?

Oh, don't worry — I know there's no chance. We don't have the genes, or the gumption, for any such thing. This is firmly in the realm of the hypothetical.

But what if my kids showed an aptitude from an early age for something, whether it's sports or something academic or acting or singing or other arts? If they seem to have a natural and expansive talent, should I encourage them toward it?

I remember when I was a kid feeling disappointed in myself for not being a prodigy, and feeling disappointed in my parents for not getting my foot in the door of something flashy: like being a singer on the Mickey Mouse Club, or being a child actor. At the same time, I acknowledged that they'd instead given me an idyllic, pressure-free childhood, where I was allowed to be delightfully, perfectly ordinary.

And now as a parent, I don't know if I could consign my kid to a Michael Phelps-like regimen of hours of lap swims a day, or send him away for better coaching the way Gabby Douglas's family had to choose. I don't judge those parents for making those choices, though. I'm just not sure what I'd do if my child's ambition and talent collided with my own desire to give him a regular childhood.

As an example of (what seems to be) a balanced homeschooling family who's brought up competitive figure skaters, I point you to Deb of Living Montessori Now, who has a blog about Raising Figure Skaters. Based on Deb's example, I have to imagine there's a natural, in-tune way to handle athletic competition and practice (or other prodigious talent) that doesn't veer into Dance Moms or Toddlers and Tiaras territory. I don't mean any disrespect to her, but I'd hate for my kids to spend their adolescence like Drew Barrymore, for an example of someone who's honest about how being a child star harmed her for a time.

So, I'm just randomly musing here. I'd love to hear your thoughts: Do you have dreams of your children becoming Olympic athletes or child stars or prodigies? Have you signed them up for classes or lessons in areas you think they might excel? Would you encourage or tamp down any urging (by coaches or teachers or your own insight) to push your kids into competitive or professional levels in a given sport or talent? Is there an age at which you'd allow them to start being super serious about a sport or the like? How would you ensure a balance between the talent and childhood?

You have three short days more to enter my fabulous giveaway for Jessicurl haircare! I love this line of gentle products so much, because they make your hair look gold medal-fabulous! See how I just connected that to the Olympics? Segue Sam's got nothing on me!


Prof. Hannah said...

We are also Olympic junkies in our house. We also had the "what if" conversation about Hannabert, especially because of all the articles about parents being in bankruptcu/foreclosure because of their kids dreams. If the child truly loves the sport and has true talent, why not support it to the fullest extent? As Hannabert loved rythmic gymnastics, diving, and pole vaulting, we can only hope their is a combo event in 2028:

Walden Mommy said...

Many children who have a deep, Olympic worthy talent have a burning desire to keep going. It gets into your soul and becomes a part of you. It's not all of, but it is what you love with your inner most being.
I was a swimmer and apparently I was very good. I wasn't told this until I stopped swim lessons. My parents swear I could have gone to the Oympics but never put me on a swim team. (I started when I was older.) I love swimming and the Olympics make me cheer for Team USA, yell at the TV and internally weep for the sport I miss so much. (There simply isn't a place for me to swim with a master' program that also has childcare.)
Like everything in parenting, there has to be a balance. The kids still need to go to school, et good grades and have a future in something other than their sport. (Although the sports can lead to jobs- many former Olympic swimmers become journalists and commintators at events.)
As for my kids, I don't know if they have the talent in a sport to go to the Olympics. That is not the goal when I encourage them to find a sport they love. I want them to be healthy, active and find something they love to do. If they show Olympic talent, I won't hold them back but I won't push them to do it if they don't want too.

Inder-ific said...

Haha. I HIGHLY DOUBT this will be an actual issue that I will face, but I guess you never know, right? I suppose I would strongly encourage a child who had that kind of excellence and drive to pursue their dreams. But I dunno, I wouldn't want them to hurt themselves doing it, so I'd probably worry a bunch too! I do think some of these athletes are pushed too hard ... but with others, it clearly comes from within. I suppose, as in all things, you follow your child's lead.

Omma Velada said...

I don't think this is a problem I'll have to deal with, lol! But even if my kids did seem to be one of the tiny group of people who can make it all the way in a sport, I would find it very hard to push them unless something was coming from them. So if they had both talent and drive, then... maybe.

I think with most sports these days, you have to start so young that if your parents don't push you before you're old enough to have a clue what you're into, you're not going to make it anyway...

Anonymous said...

I'm with your husband, and find the gymnastics especially sickening. Those girls are so thin that a lot of them don't even menstruate, from what I've read.

I agree with Tallulah - If you wait until kids are ready and driven on their own, you miss the boat. And I think that pushing small children into sports (or anything) that they don't necessarily want to devote themselves to is wrong wrong wrong.

Inder-ific said...

It's probably true that if you don't start your kid at gymnastics or diving before they're five, you've missed the boat, but that's not true of all of the sports. I can still hold out hope that one of my kids will become an awesome fencer or marathoner without me having to push them at it through childhood! :-)

Laura said...

Yeah I think gymnastics is the exception and is the one sport that you have to devote your childhood to, to become great. The moves almost become impossible after you hit puberty.

Though some will say you need to specialize as a child in other sports to "make it". I disagree. I think it mostly leads to burnout.

I was an athlete as a kid. I did gymnastics from age 5 - 12. Then soccer, basketball, track (sprinting hurdling) in high school and then x-country in college.

When I was 12 I became the most serious at gymnastics, in that I practiced three times a week and had meets on some weekends. I felt pressure from my parents to not commit more time due to costs. Though my mom claims if I had wanted to I could have become more serious. But I had read all the gymnast biographies, and while I admired them I didn't really desire that for myself. But if I had parents that encouraged me to? I'm not sure, maybe I would have chosen to go for it. The culture definitely pushes you toward it and I did feel that pressure. I ended up quitting because we moved. We were supposed to be gone just for the summer, but we never ended up going back. I never found a new gym and started playing other sports instead and didn't really miss it. i didn't enjoy the atmosphere.

I'm thinking about putting Selena in gymnastics. She has the gymnastics build, is brave, and climbs on every.thing. I think gymnastics was great for my overall athletic ability, it made transitioning to other sports easy. But it was also bad for my body. My knees and wrists were shot. So I sway back and forth. I think she would enjoy it, and I think the skills she would gain are great. But I am wary of the culture, and the tendency to drive the kids to hard, resulting in too much wear on their little bodies. I definitely would have a hard time supporting my kid if they wanted to devote their childhood to gymnastics--and I kind of worry that Selena could be a kid who would want to. I probably will sign her up, but do my best to ensure it is a recreational experience.

As for other sports I think it isn't necessary to specialize so young. If my older child chose to devote 10,000hrs to it, I could support that.

Unknown said...

My daughter is 9 and very much a gymnast. She has some talent and definitely possesses the focus to train seriously if she so desired. Personally, I never miss the chance to remind her how many birthday parties and sleepovers those Olympic athletes missed to accomplish all that they have. No Olympians in my house if I can help it. ;)

Jennifer McMillin said...

Interesting question. I don't think I'd ever push my kids into anything but if they show aptitude or interest in something in particular (whether it's diving, computers or chess) then I hope to provide opportunities for them to explore that field until their interest wanes (or flourishes). My husband and I can both think of interests we had that could have been fostered better by our parents and I'd like my kids to be able to follow their interests.

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