Sport on Saturdays: "Dear parents of athletes: I salute you."

When your children compete at an elite level…




With the recent announcement of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, it got me to thinking.  That there would be young people in training for that tournament in seven years.  Seven years is a long time to prepare for any sporting event, and there will be many hopefuls all with Tokyo as their pinnacle of their sporting career.  As talented as the athlete is, it will be a whole community behind them that helps them get to the Olympics.

My sons are lucky, they are fit and healthy.  They both play an Olympic-recognised sport, water polo.   While they are unlikely to go to an Olympics, they are training as if they are.  At fourteen and sixteen years of age, they are only a few weeks away from a nationals tournament on the east coast.  Their training has been ramped up to include six sessions per week ranging from 1.5-2 hours in length.  Four of these sessions are on the weekend.

They are meant to be swimming on top of that to keep them swim-fit.  So as well as their sporting commitments, they are also expected to study, attend compulsory music and athletic events for school, the eldest one works and the youngest will start shortly. There are inevitable clashes of timetables. Their fragile minds on a continuous treadmill trying to please everyone but in the end never completely satisfying anyone.

“ As talented as the athlete is, it will be a whole community behind them that helps them get to the Olympics.”

Music and sports masters as well as swimming and water polo coaches all disappointed when my sons are not able make it to every practice session, what ever it may be.

While the boys understand the importance of attending all sessions, it is just sometimes impossible to be at more than one place at a time.

Physically and mentally this is tough for my sons, it is their choice and they love all the positive attributes sport brings to their lives.  The positives far outweigh the negatives to them.

As a parent it is tough too.  Listening and guiding them through the rough weeks of illness and injury, heavy workloads and training sessions. While sharing in their joy at a game or tournament win, mastering a tricky shot or a team selection is easy to participate in.

The mentoring, sharing their disappointments in a loss, non selection, injury or just trying to discipline them at home when you know that in the big scheme of things they are good kids, but they still have to tow the line just like everyone else, is a more difficult parental role. Shopping for food, nutritious food to not only fill their insatiable appetites, but nurture their growing and repairing bodies.

The early morning and evening runs to the pools, of coming home from working a night shift, to snatch an hour’s sleep before time to get up and go to swimming. To coordinate my weekends around training sessions, games and food shopping.  Forgoing a coffee or movie with my husband, a drink with a girlfriend, a pedicure because I look like I have claws, to meet my children’s sporting commitments.

“Once their sporting season starts, like most sports it relies heavily on parental participation for this to function.”

The extra work to makes sure that club fees and uniforms are paid for.  The travel both to national and international destinations comes at a cost both financially and socially.

I think my boys are lucky to be able to see Australia and European countries, making friends as they go. I am sure it will benefit their life enormously, so off to an extra shift I go, or my husband who too,  takes on extra work when he can.  We share the responsibility.

Once their sporting season starts, like most sports it relies heavily on parental participation for this to function.  Ours is no different.

My husband and I have trained as referees to be able to officiate at games and keep current with our son’s conversations of their sport.  We have turned sausages and bought raffle tickets to raise money, cooked meals and timed and scored, mostly in forty degree heat of a hot Perth summer.

Our long suffering friends and family who contribute financially to raffles and various fundraising opportunities to ensure our boys make it to their training camp or tournament. Our holidays are usually taken up with managing teams and taking them away for a tournament or billeting boys in our homes that come to visit us in Perth.  All of which we do lovingly and end up exhausted the day before we are expected to return to paid work.

The upside of this is that we are never bored, never looking for something to do.  We are needed and wanted most days of the weeks.  Our family has met some amazing people and have gained an appreciation for teenage boys and how fantastic they are. We are learning tolerance, to be able to cope with people with different values and views to us, but are just as passionate.  We are also learning skills that we never thought that we would need!

Caroline’s husband, Gavin, refereeing

Athletes give up so much of their time, they sacrifice a lot to be the best at their sport. The early nights, the declining of parties and junk food to keep them the best that they can be.

They are usually only one training session away from being dropped from a team or squad.  For every Olympic medal that you see awarded at Tokyo, I used to think that a second medal should be given to the support community of that athlete.

The parents, family, coaches, managers, employers and friends that helped the athletes celebrate their wins with them, console them in their losses and just got them through one day at a time over the next seven years.

On reflection, just to see an athlete qualify for a squad that may get them to an Olympics, to see an international friendship blossom over many years, to see the patience, tolerance and discipline gained from being an athlete would be reward enough for any parent.

I salute all parents of elite athletes and want you to know that we appreciate all that you do and sacrifice for your child.  You don’t need a medal as just knowing that your child is gifted and healthy is the biggest prize of all.  I will however, think of and applaud you all with every race and game played in Tokyo.  Win, lose, draw or disqualify I know that you too will be there to celebrate or console and keep the hearts, minds and bodies of your athletes, nourished with your love and belief in them as a person.

Caroline is a Registered Nurse and Midwife from Perth, and also co-director of Carolines Angels, a specialist baby sleep agency. In her spare time, Caroline enjoys writing about her family and friends on her blog, Mumorable Moments.

And in other sporting news this week…

– Aussie netball team, the Diamonds, beat the New Zealand Silver Ferns in a game this week that levelled out the 2013 Constellation Cup series. So far, the series hasn’t gone well for the Diamonds – they’ve been on a bit of a losing streak, losing five games before the eventual victory.

– Former rugby Sevens player, Tim Walsh, has been announced as head coach of the Qantas Women’s Sevens for the 2013-14 season. Walsh said: “The opportunity to continue growing the women’s game and to be part of making Olympic history is something I believe we can achieve and I want to be a part of.”

– Aussie soccer team, the Matildas, will play China in a series of international matches to be held in Australia later this year. They’ll play at Parramatta stadium on the 24th November and in Wollongong on the 27th, in preparation for next year’s AFC women’s Asian Cup in Vietnam.

– The Matildas will also play the US Women’s National team on the 21st October in San Antonio. Apparently another game with Mexico is also in the works.

– Aussie super-athlete, Ellyse Perry (we’ve interviewed Ellyse before – click here) has signed with Fox Sports as a specialist commentator across football and cricket (the sports she plays). Congratulations, Ellyse!

– 21-year-old Hockeyroo Jade Warrender has unfortunately left the AIS Hockey Women’s High Performance Program, after a period of personal reflection and discussions with coaches. She said: “I’ve really enjoyed my time with the girls. This has been a very difficult personal decision to make but I feel like I need to take a break to refresh and re-evaluate and to rediscover my passion for hockey.