As the sun sets on yet another inspiring Olympic Games, it’s time to reflect on the breakout performances (Molly Seidel, Athing Mu), incredible success/longevity in sport (Alison Felix, Sue Bird & Katie Ledecky), touching acts of sportsmanship (G. Tamberi & M. Barshim) and unexpected challenges (Simone Biles) of these amazing athletes. As a former gymnast and now a parent of athletes, the plight of Simone has touched me deeply. The Olympics is a time for gymnastics to shine on the world’s stage, however, the spotlight shifted from athletic prowess/dominance to the importance of the overall well-being of athletes. This made me think about the unique needs of athletes – physical, mental, and emotional – and the role that coaches, parents, and teammates play in helping achieve the necessary balance to compete at the highest level.
As a parent do I have the right approach? Am I doing enough? Or too much? How can I help my kids navigate the inevitable highs and lows and intense pressure to perform without losing the joy of the sport? I maintain a tremendous friendship with my collegiate gymnastics coach, Margie Foster-Cunningham, who is entering her 37th season as head coach of the George Washington University Team so I decided to get her take on how to use this as a learning experience in supporting athletes. Out of our animated conversation emerged some themes worth sharing:
Nelson Mandela said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Sports allow athletes the opportunity to practice the art of the comeback. Recovering from challenges along the way enables athletes to develop coping skills and the resilience necessary to become strong, future leaders with positive mindsets. Simone Biles’ bronze medal performance on the balance beam was the ultimate comeback. Behind this achievement was countless hours of practice, incredible fortitude, and unmatched strength coupled with the amazingly positive support of her coach, family, teammates, and loved ones.
Positive parents and coaches guide growth through sport. Your role as parent is both simple and complex – it’s a fine art, a skill. Like any skill, it requires lots of practice, constant refinement, and ongoing development. Don’t waste your “windshield time”, it truly is a gift so use it wisely and like your athlete – keep practicing!
Co-written by Kristie Helfrich and Margie Foster-Cunningham
In addition to serving as Chairperson of the Mid-Atlantic Positive Coaching Alliance Board, Kristie is the COO for The Benchmarking Company, a woman-owned market research firm focused on beauty and personal care products. More than 20 years ago, Kristie competed for the George Washington University Gymnastics team in DC where she met her husband, Dan, a Georgetown University soccer player. Currently, she and Dan have the privilege of raising four amazing athletes - Kaitlyn, Matty, Carrie & Tommy - and our greatest joy is watching them play. When she is not driving carpool or watching sports, Kristie enjoys working out, binging Netflix, and cooking for family & friends.
Margie Foster-Cunningham is entering her 37th season as head coach of the George Washington University Gymnastics Team and coached Kristie Helfrich.
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