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The first time they put my little 9-year-old girl in as goalie in her recreational soccer team, my heart sank. Goalie is something of a lose-lose position, particularly for a newbie. Stop all the balls and the best you get is a game full of stress. Miss a few and you’re responsible for losing the game. When her team lost during her first time in the goal, I had a sad little girl on my hands. “I was so bad at it, Mommy,” she said. Then she asked me a question that I’ll always remember. “Do you think I can do it?”
I was reminded of this moment watching the video that features Nick Goepper, the freestyle skier who was called “Rookie to Watch” by ESPN and who is currently competing in the Olympic Games in Sochi. Nick’s mom, Linda, talks about what it takes to raise an Olympian. I always think about the great financial burden it must be to fund such a big dream. But sometimes I forget that a lot of what it takes to raise a child capable of competing in the Olympics is psychological. What I learned in watching Nick and Linda recount his journey from 5-year-old discovering skiing to member of the U.S. Olympic team is that raising an Olympian is a lot about telling your kids they can do anything they want to do.
For many years, Nick was an active kid who liked to create obstacles in the snow in his backyard. But eventually, he decided he wanted to take his dream bigger. He told his mom, “I want to compete in the Winter X Games.” Linda confessed that she wasn’t sure if that was a realistic goal. But she told Nick that anything was possible. When Nick’s dad lost his job and was out of work for two years, Nick picked up odd jobs to help fund his big dream. His mother was always behind him.
Sometimes, as moms, we think it’s our job to protect our kids. And it is. But protection can sometimes subtly limit their options. What I wanted to do after my daughter’s disastrous first time in the goal was speak to her coach to make sure she’d never be put in that position again. But instead, I told her she could do anything she wanted to do. And, little by little, she got better.
Years have passed since that tough game. My daughter has gone a different route than Nick. Rather than pursue soccer as an ever-more-serious goal (like Nick did with skiing), my daughter has dabbled and moved on, like so many kids do. She is currently fascinated by the idea of a career in law. But I know she heard me that day and has taken my encouraging words to heart. She does believe she can do anything she sets her mind to do. Whether we’re raising Olympians or not, the job of parenting is the same: to say, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
That’s why I love these stories about Olympians and their moms. Rather than just show us these extraordinary athletes and their stories, they help us remember the greatness in all of us.
What big dream does your child have? How do you encourage them?