Thoughts on Raising a Gifted Athlete

RegionalsMy son is competing at the state track meet in Pole Vault tomorrow morning.

He is a gifted athlete. And that’s all very well.

But it has nothing to do with me.

At the spring awards banquet last week, he was MVP and complimentary comments were made about his dedication, work ethic, and such. He got an armful plaques and awards. Yet listening to his accomplishments was strange.

I saw my son through the eyes of others.

He started on the varsity football team as a freshman,  made significant contributions as a linebacker, lettered 3 years in a row, was all conference, even all Ohio as a punter by his junior year. The boy went to state in Pole Vault as a freshman; this will be his 3rd trip to outdoor state. (He’s been to indoor state, as well.) He’ll compete in The New Balance Outdoor Nationals in a couple of weeks with the best jumpers in the country. I know these things.

But I don’t see him as others do. To me, he’s just my son. One of the best gifts I have ever been given.

His athletic ability is God-given. Something he was born with. How he channels it, uses it, is up to him.

The child landed a front flip on my bed when he was two, rode a two-wheel bike with no training wheels at two and a half—then headed straight for the nearest ramp. I had to keep him busy. When he was three, I took him for skating lessons; he put on hockey skates for the first time, took a lap, and they said to bring him back later in the week with a helmet and stick. He skipped lessons, went straight to tot hockey.  If I turned my back, he was 15 feet up a tree. He’s played travel hockey, baseball and basketball; football, soccer, and wrestled. Since age five or six, he’s flipped from high dives, low dives, and snow piles and out of trees—back, front, and sideways. On the trampoline, other kids jumped up and down; with him, it was back flip, front flip, back layout, twisting front flip…there was no jumping, just flipping and twisting. At almost 6’3” and 210 pounds, the boy still does standing back flips in the yard, has been known to do tumbling passes, round off, back handspring, and back tuck (self-taught). He’s always hit the heck out of a golf ball, punted footballs a mile, and quickly picked up skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding. Whatever he tried, he could do. And do well.

I gave him opportunities to explore his athleticism, encouraged him, talked with him about safety, and often got him stitched up. But that’s about it.

He’s been successful in sports because he wants to be. There is something inside of him, some drive that pushes him to get better, stronger, and faster.  To “Make it Happen,” as his track coach says.

I couldn’t produce any of his coaches contact information, his training schedule, or his practice schedules, if my life depended on it. He’s always dealt with that, let me know where he needed to be, and at what time.

What’s my role?

  • I pack sandwiches, fruit, snacks, water and Gatorade.
  • I make sure he has Advil and if he needs uniforms dropped off at school, I do that. (Much of the time, he washes his own clothes, and he rarely forgets them.)
  • I keep an eye on him; if he needs something checked out, I make a doctor’s appointment. He wants to compete. Always. But there are times he needs to wait until we get an x-ray or MRI.
  • I sit down to dinner with him each night, make sure he has a comfortable home, that he knows he’s loved, my priority.
  • I sign waivers, fill out the forms he leaves on my desk.
  • I eat funnel cakes at track meets, popcorn at football games.
  • I clap from the bleachers.
  • I tell him to clean his room, feed the dogs and let them outside. And to please bring the stack of cups (crusted with dry Gatorade powder) down from his bedside table.

Things I DON’T do:

  • I don’t weight in, or break down performance; I’m lucky to jump over a puddle. I know squat about Pole Vault. The boy has top-notch coaches to guide him.
  • I don’t spend hours trying to learn how to coach him. I’m just his mom.
  • I don’t ask questions; He comes in after games, practices…and if he wants to talk about something, he will. If he doesn’t, I don’t push. He’ll share when he’s ready.
  • I don’t criticize him.
  • I don’t question his training/preparation: He knows what he wants, where he’s at, what needs done to reach his goals. If he’s off track, he talks with his coaches. I trust him to know what is right for him, and know that he’ll come to me if he needs my council.
  • I don’t set his goals, track his progress, put expectations on him; he does that for himself.
  • I don’t take video, because I’m horrible with it; get footage of the sky and ground, because I’m watching him.

Family Fan Club

Family Fan Club

The state track meet starts tomorrow…

I’ll sit on the sidelines with my family and friends, probably eating a funnel cake. Long ago, Darling Daughter instructed me to sit in the bleachers and be quiet–at both her and her brothers sporting events. Done.

Doesn’t matter if my son is fantastic or terrible. (Though I realize it matters to him.) I’ll clap whether he takes first or last place.

I won’t take photos, because nobody wants my photos. They suck.

Here’s what matters to me…

He’s a nice young man, kind, compassionate, well-mannered. He hops on the mower when the grass looks long, without being asked. When I pull up with groceries, he runs out to help me. When his sister lugs her crap downstairs for her trip back to college, he stops her—handles loading her car. Has been known to fuel up her car, get her an oil change, or a new battery before she heads out. If I’m cooking, he fires up the grill and brings everything back inside, cooked. He’s a hard worker, a loyal friend, brother and son. He’s got principles. He’s a leader. He doesn’t leave the car on empty. He’s respectful. He’s funny, has a great sense of humor, is quick to smile, and a joy to be around. These things matter.

If he never played another sport starting now, it matters not to me. When he and every kid on the field of play come off the field in one piece, as they went in—that’s a successful day.

He plays sports, trains, practices because HE wants to. I’m not sure where the inner fire and drive come from, but I know I have nothing to do with it.

When he gets home from the state track meet, I’ll be there to greet him.

I’ll be happy to see him because he’s my son, and I’m always happy to see him.

I’ll probably ask him if he wants a sandwich, or something to eat.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Raising a Gifted Athlete

  1. A terrific tribute to the great relationship you have with your son and the great job you have done as a mom!!

  2. I love it…you have an amazing son
    ..and you have everything to do with it because you let him be who he is …support everything he does and give him all your love

    • I guess that is coming from a mom who does the same for her kids. That’s what we do, right? There are days I wish “who he is” stood on the ground and not 20 feet off of it, on a litte stick! Seriously, thank you for your kind words.

  3. I still love reading this…so happy for Nick..I know how hard he works. .and u make it easy by just being there and being an amazing mom..

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