Vancouver Olympics: When sports success is family affair
Parents of athletes at the Vancouver Olympics spoke to the Monitor about treading that fine line between encouraging performance and demanding it of their exceptionally talented offspring.
In Pictures US medal count
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Her dad knew far better than she what that would mean. A former NFL player, Edward Meyers was intimate with sweat. With perseverance. And with the pure enjoyment of being at the top of your game. If his daughter wasn't prepared to work hard, he wasn't prepared to let her play hard.
But after two years of Elena's entreaties, he let her join a softball team at age 10. She wasn't very good and was often in tears after games. So at the dawn of what would become a world-class career, she and her dad had the first of many father-daughter talks about her future in sports.
" 'If you're going to be good, you're going to have to work at it. Are you willing to work at it?' " Elana remembers Mr. Meyers telling her firmly. "I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'OK, let's go.' "
Right there, they started practicing fielding. He built a batting cage in their yard in Atlanta. He took her out to the track and taught her how to sprint. He and his wife taught her how to slide headfirst, so she wouldn't be afraid of doing it. And they watched her become a softball standout at George Washington University – and later, the 2009 silver medalist in the bobsledding world championships.
The real value of parents' investment
Meyers is one of millions of parents who spent years on the sidelines of his child's athletic career.
As a former professional athlete, he had rare perspective. But the challenge is commonplace: how to navigate that fine line between encouraging performance and demanding it. The key, say Meyers and other Olympian parents, is to preserve kids' love for the sport while steadying their resolve as their work ethic matures. That makes all the hours as chauffeur, coach, comforter, and cheering squad worth it, whether the child reaches the Olympics or not.
"My perspective is … the value of discipline, perseverance, having a work ethic – it's not just for sports, it's for everything, and it's for life," says Meyers, now an executive vice president for PNC Bank. "A lot of times, as parents, you don't know what [your children] want to do or are going to do eventually, but you can instill a work ethic and discipline that will carry them through whatever they'll do the rest of their life."
It's easy for some parents. US freestyle skier Hannah Kearney, the reigning world champion in moguls, has been pretty self-sufficient from Day 1, lining up her toys as a toddler, her piles of clothes as a young traveling competitor – and then, without any parental input, a retirement account as first-time World Cup winner at age 17.
"Hannah pretty much makes up her mind on things herself, and has since she could talk," says Mrs. Kearney, who has nevertheless been grateful for the decisions her daughter has made – including staying in public school, where she got straight A's, instead of going to a ski academy.
But Kearney has seen her share of parents in tougher situations – and not just because they had to get up at 0-dark-30 to drive their sleeping kid to the rink or the gym.