Monday, February 3, 2014

The Olympics and That Mom Commercial

There's a commercial making the rounds of the internet (what has it come to, that we not only voluntarily watch commercials, but share them with our friends?) anyway, a commercial showing a bunch of little children, toddling on ice skates and skis, falling down, mothers picking them up--the children get bigger and more proficient; the mothers tend bruises, bite their lips--and then the children are grown, competing at the Olympics, throwing their arms around their sobbing mothers. It's the same commercial that ran during the last summer games, only with winter sports, and I've heard divided reactions to it. Some people find it emotionally moving. Others see evil helicopter parents forcing their children to succeed.

From what I've seen, you can't force anyone into the Olympics.

Anyone with a child who's ever played any sort of sport knows parents who take things too seriously. I coached kindersoccer once, and got told off by a mother for not giving her child enough playing time. Her child had begged to be taken out of the game, and by the rules of the league wasn't allowed to go back in--so, by following the rules, I was wrecking his nascent soccer career. My son played Little League, a minefield of wackos who think their children will make the bigs, if only they scream loud enough. Basketball, tennis, golf, riding--my children played all those, too, and I've got weird-parent stories for every sport.

I'm sure I also count as a weird parent, but I never expected my children to be professional athletes. First of all, they get half their genes from me. Second, I've known some actual Olympians, and I understand how rare they are. Read the book The Sports Gene. Our greatest athletes are physical anomalies--bigger, faster, stronger, or perhaps just more responsive to training, or quicker off the mark, or better balanced. They're at the far end of the genetic bell curve. And then they work, insanely hard. They throw themselves into their sports head-first, full-on, and you can't stop them. Maybe somewhere they've got a helicopter parent. I just don't think it matters. If they don't have an insane to win, if they don't want to make one thing their whole life, at least for a few years, they aren't going to the Olympics.

I'm headed down to Florida now, to ride with friends; coincidentally, while I'm there, some of the superstars in my sport will be riding in training sessions with the Olympic coach. I'll get to watch. It'll be like auditing a college calculus class when you've ever only reached long division. Mine isn't a sport where people peak early: most Olympic eventers are in their 30s. Over the years, going to Florida, I've watched some talented young riders grow up, and you can pick them out, the ones that might make the Olympics, not just by the way they ride, but by how they're still working, year after year after year.