How to Balance Being a Sports Parent

How to Balance Being a Sports Parent

Raising an exceptional athlete brings highs, lows and lots of windshield time. Four local moms share their stories and experiences.

How to Balance Being a Sports Parent
Headlines are filled with stories of crazy sports parents who push their kids to the breaking point and lose all perspective.
But for a parent whose child is dedicated to a sport – and maybe even darn good at it – how do you tow the line between supporting your child's athletic ability and not going overboard? How do you NOT become one of those nutjobs that takes all of the joy out of your child's passion? And how do you balance the demands of having a star athlete with the daily realities of everyday life?
Here, four moms behind high-level area athletes tell us about the demands of their child's athletics as well as the benefits reaped from the time, cost and commitment required for their child to excel. They share the good, the bad and the ugly about bringing up a champion.

Cheryl Davis

Hometown: West Bloomfield
Kids: Olympic ice dancing champion Meryl Davis and Clayton Davis
Sports Truism: "Believe in yourself. Have faith. Keep your head up."
Cheryl Davis of West Bloomfield thinks that her daughter Meryl is perhaps better known for her recent Dancing With the Stars Season 18 win than her ice dancing Olympic gold medal. Either way, she considers her daughter's recent accomplishments surreal – not to mention a long time coming. Meryl, 27, first hit the ice at age 3 on the lake on which her family lived.
"It would freeze over, and the whole family would go out and ice skate," Cheryl recalls. "She loved it. She loves the cold."
By 5 Meryl was taking private lessons, and by age 8 she was competing regularly as a single. "When she met Charlie (White) and made the switch to ice dancing, that's when she really got serious about skating," Cheryl recalls.
By the time she was in middle school, Meryl was practicing every day after school and on Saturday. It was a challenging schedule, but one that worked for her.
"She's a very active person," Cheryl notes. "She paces when she's not skating."
As Meryl and Charlie progressed in their sport, the travel demands increased to the point where she missed seven to 10 days of school each month during the season, which runs from October through March.
"She had to be very detail oriented," Cheryl says. "She asked a ton of questions and made up any assignments she missed."
Despite her demanding training and travel schedule, Meryl still maintained an active social life.
"We encouraged her to go to parties and to be involved in school activities like the talent show and to attend her prom," Cheryl says. "We knew the importance of her being part of a group."
To make sure her younger son Clayton didn't feel like he was living in his sister's shadow, Cheryl made extra efforts to spend time with him. And when mother and daughter traveled for competitions, Cheryl's husband Paul used their time away to plan some extra father-son time.
"Clayton and his dad had bonding time," she explains. "They ate out. They skied together. It was special time for them."
Upon reflection, Cheryl thinks that her son, while younger than Meryl by three years, is perhaps wiser than his famous sister.
"She is bright, but ice skaters live like moles," she says. "He has more everyday experience."
A new challenge for Cheryl will be helping her daughter acclimate to life after the Olympics.
"I think it's more difficult for Meryl now than for me," Cheryl admits. "I still have the life I've always had. Meryl has been so scheduled since she was little. It was all day, every day. Now what? She has so much energy."
Meryl will continue to support her daughter as she finishes her degree at the University of Michigan, where she is majoring in anthropology, and in whatever professional endeavors she next tackles. She's confident the lessons a life on the ice have afforded her will help her on her way.
"This sport has taught our kids that disappointment is part of the journey," Cheryl notes. "It has taught them to believe in themselves, to have faith and to never give up."

Jacqui White

Hometown: Bloomfield Hills
Kids: Olympic ice dancing champion Charlie White and Jason White; stepdaughters Lindsay, Stephanie and Emily
Sports Truism: "You learn as much from failure as from success."
For many high-performance athletes, the pinnacle of their endeavors is an Olympic gold medal. It's a feat to which few can lay claim. But for local ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, it was a dream realized when they skated near perfect performances at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and earned top honors.
Jacqui White of Bloomfield Hills is one of the moms behind the medal – the chauffeur, financier and confidante who knows well the glamorous and unglamorous aspects of raising a champion. Charlie first hit the ice at age 3 when Jacqui and her husband, Charlie Sr., were looking for a family activity to do with their son and his four older siblings.
"He really liked it," recalls Jacqui, who herself grew up ice skating on the canals of Belle Isle. "So I signed him up for a mom-and-tot ice skating class at the rink in Berkley. The sole goal of the class was for each child to learn how to get up by him or herself after falling down." When the rink closed for the summer, Charlie was still itching to hit the ice. Jacqui came upon a flier for the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Township.
"I discovered then that we had a world-renowned skating club in our area," she says.
She enrolled Charlie in a learn-to-skate program, and he never looked back. By age 8, Charlie was playing travel hockey and competing in ice dance with his partner Meryl.
"We had no idea when we started him in ice skating lessons that he would compete at nationals or the Olympics. We were just looking for something fun and recreational."
Unlike many competitive ice skaters, Charlie attended school full-time while training. When competitions required out-of-town travel, Jacqui and Charlie would meet with his teachers to discuss how he could keep up with his studies from the road. "Thank God he was born in the computer age. He was able to submit many papers online."
School was always the priority. "Meryl's parents were on the same page, thankfully," Jacqui notes. "We saw how many people lost perspective. We didn't want that to happen. We didn't want ice skating to take over."
Charlie always maintained an active social life in addition to skating, school and violin lessons. And at times, it did cause him stress.
"He and I had many conversations. I was checking for cracks in the egg that it might be too much. I'd remind him that it was his life. He got to call the shots. He knew he never had to do something to make us happy. I certainly had plenty of other work to do!"
When in 2006, fellow ice dancers Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin competed at the Winter Olympics, Charlie and Meryl felt they had what it takes to shoot for that same goal.
"They thought, 'If they can do it, we can do it,'" White recalls. "Charlie and Meryl felt they were moving in on Ben and Tanith's skill level."
Still, the road to the Olympics is not easy, and disappointments were not uncommon.
"Thankfully Charlie is a really positive person," White says. "You almost have to be. It's a very unforgiving sport. You're as good as your last competition. You'll give up if you're too hard on yourself."
Instead, Jacqui encouraged Charlie to use disappointment as an opportunity to learn, and the lessons paid off. In February, Jacqui saw her son reach his lifelong goal.
"There are no words invented for the feeling of seeing your son win an Olympic medal," she says. "I can still see their faces when they finished their programs. That image will resonate in my heart for the rest of my life. It's a glorious feeling of happiness. They put their heart and soul into this."
The lessons ice skating has taught her son, family and herself are many.

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