What Kind of Mother Do I Want to Be?

Mom, Coach or Competitor?

By Jocelyn Martin

There comes a point as mothers that our children are competing in sports.  Often times we act solely as chauffer and cheerleader.  Ushering them to practice and games.  Making sure they have their required gear and physicals.  We sit on the sidelines taking pictures and cheering them on.

But there is also a point, when our children want to start participating in sports we currently participate in or that we used to participate in.  Its only natural afterall.  We love or once loved a certain sport.  They see that and want to participate in something that makes you happy.  And with that comes new challenges.  Challenges that were not seen by previous generations of women.  Afterall, lets be honest here, women competing in sports through high school and college and even at the professional level is a relatively new thing.  Yes, there were those few sports, cheerleading being one, that were female dominant, but most women didn’t go to college and continue to participate in sports like they do now.  We now have scholarships and NCAA rulings, all female races and professional teams made up all of women.  There may even be the first professional NFL female referree shortly (she’s on the short list for the 2013/2014 season and is currently helping the Lions with their pre-season camp).  So navigating the role of mother, competitor and potentially coach is a new challenge mothers of today face.

I’m very fortunate to have had the honor of competing with a lot of “family” teams in the races I compete in.  Father and son, father and daughter, mother and daughter and it always seems to be a joyous event.  They all get to share time together, training and competing.  Having recently completed my first triathlon with my oldest daughter, it was great to see her out on the course and to cheer her on as we passed each other.  But there are also challenges to that.  What role will you take in their development in their sport?

We’ve seen father’s take a role in their child’s sport development as coach.  Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters being two that come readily to mind.  We’ve seen mothers search out the best coaches for their children.  Michael Phelps’ mom and Gabby Douglas’ mom come to mind.  But where will you stand?  What will your role be as your child competes in sports?  Mom the Cheerleader?  Mom the Coach?  or Mom the Competitor?

I recently had the honor to watch a friend, who has raced for years with his son, get surpassed by his son’s talent.  The son is now beating his father at races.  It was a wonderful moment and one that both cherished and I’m sure discussed for days!  I’m also sure it was one they prepared for.  Training together, cheering each other on, pushing each other to be better.  Now granted, the child is a high school athlete, so you can do that.  I would not recommend such fierce competition with a younger child.  And both genuinely wanted each other to succeed.  To be their best competitor.  They shared knowledge and training.  They encouraged and pushed each other to be better than they could be alone.  And there was no discouraging or trash talk.  Just two athletes competing to be the best they could be.   A father and son team, though competing as individuals.

I also recently spoke with a friend about the role she’s taking in helping to coach her daughter with gymnastics and swimming.  We discussed how difficult it can be to coach your own child.  You’re always together.  There is no rest or break.  And as parents, we often think we know how hard we can push our children.  We expect more of them than others would.  We test their limits, their patience, their behavior and are embarrassed, especially if we’re coaching them with a group, when they don’t do as we think they should.  Its all normal.  They are our children afterall and we do know them better than most coaches, but that doesn’t always mean we’re the best coach for our child.

Some parent/child teams excel.  There is an additional level of trust and communication that exists between the pair.  There is a desire to do what is best for each other, no matter the outcome (this can serve as a positive and a negative).  The fact that so much time is spent together, creates a lasting bond and memories that are priceless.

Then there is the opposite.  When the parent wants the child to participate in the sport more than the child does.  When the parent thinks the child is capable of something that is currently beyond their skill level and pushes them harder and faster than they should.  When the pressure of meeting the parent’s expectations is too much for the child.  When there is fear that by failing, losing or giving up that the child will no longer be loved.  Those things can break a parent/child bond for years and take a lot to rebuild.

Then there is the sideline parent we discussed above.  Not the parents we read about in the headlines who put down the other team, cause fights with other parents, coaches, referrees and even children.  But the parent, the mom, who just wants to watch their child enjoy the journey, enjoy the sport, enjoy learning a new skill.  The parent who cheers their child on win or lose and encourages them to give their best.  The parent who pushes their child to success, gives them the tools they need and then sets them off to succeed on their own.  The parent who support is essential to the child’s development in that sport and they can see that, while taking that back seat position and smiling as their child goes on to success.

Its a fine line and difficult one, especially as mothers. I find there is a lot of mothers guilt that lies in anything we do for our children, good and bad. I know I do not want to be my child’s coach.  I’ll leave that job to her coaches.  Of course I’ll always help her, provide advice, guidance, but I’ll leave the skill development to others.

As I’ve recently had the opportunity to compete in a race with my oldest daughter, I dreamed of the times to come.  The times when training runs, rides and swims are equally matched.  When we’re pushing each other to succeed and laughing when the other pulls ahead.  When I too, like my friend, can pass the torch to her.  When she is the one waiting at the finish line for me to finish as she had come out ahead, the winner of our private competition, one with bigger bragging right than the medal or ribbon received from the race.  I know in all of that that I will cherish most, my role as her mom.  For if we can both stand at the finish, like we did this past week, and support each other through it all, pushing each other to be our own idividual best competitor, than I will have done something right.  Bonded with her over memories and experiences no one else can know, except two athletes, two competitors, a mother and a daughter.  I can’t wait!!!

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