Since becoming a mom, I watch the Olympics through different eyes. I think about the emotional athleticism it takes to be a mother watching her child's Olympic dream and countless hours of hard work culminate in victory or defeat. So last night, while the commentators diagramed the fluid dynamic advantages of Michael Phelps' body geometry, I found myself wondering what factors besides exceedingly long feet influenced his success. I decided to do a bit of research on the role parents play in cultivating an Olympic champion.
What has this got to do with you if your child is no Nastia Liukin? We all want to raise a confident, hard working, optimistic child so here are several key ideas we can learn from parents of Olympians:
Parents of the Olympians emphasized hard work and the importance of follow-through, and the attitude that hard work pays off. All the parents of the Olympians studied stressed that success comes not primarily from inborn talent but from lots of effort and practice. I just watched an interview with Michael Phelps and his mother, Debbie. Michael said he and his sisters saw the hard work and dedication she puts into her work as a school principal and how much effort she pours into her passion for changing kids' lives. He went on to explain how he modeled himself off his mom.
Here's another finding that caught my attention: Parents played a critical role in helping to keep success in perspective. One Olympic gold medalist said her mom told her she didn't care if she won X gold medals, she still had to do her chores and clean her room. Leah and Anna, the recycling bin is overflowing, your room looks like a tornado hit, could you please...
One more important finding: When the champions messed up or made mistakes, their parents weren't critical. Debbie Phelps didn't criticize Michael (who struggled with ADHD) when his teacher told her, 'Your son will never be able to focus on anything.' In fact her first response was rightly to question the teacher--'maybe he's bored' she said. Touche! She accepts her son's strengths and weaknesses. When he was younger, she supported the passion she saw him exhibit for things he loved. She believed in him. The rest is Olympic history.
The growing of an Olympic champion (or a gawky but nevertheless self-confident, disciplined child) relies on a variety of factors but here's the bottom-line: cultivating your parenting skills is as good as gold.
Check out Christine Carter's brilliant blog at www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/half
_full for more on how to make the effort equals success connection with your child and read Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.