Raising a Champion 

Tips on parenting a budding athletic competitor.

Utah is home to a surprising amount of extreme talent. From singers such as The Osmonds and David Archuleta to Olympic gold medalists such as bobsledder Steve Holcomb and skier Ted Ligety, local heroes abound—especially in the athletic world.

But as a parent, what do you do if you think your kid has talent? How do you encourage it without being pushy? How do you even recognize that your child truly has something special?

Two moms in Park City seem to know how to raise a champion. Holly Flanders (pictured at top) is herself a champion, an Olympian who was the first American skier to win multiple World Cups as a downhiller. Her son Alex Schlopy just stunned the world by winning gold in Big Air at the X Games, and winning the first World Championship in slopestyle at the Freestyle World Championships that recently concluded in Park City. Debbie Battersby’s daughter Ashley Battersby is the ruling women’s slopestyle champion. When she came in sixth at the Worlds, her only reaction was annoyance. She said, “I’m better than that!” Both athletes were in training for the Dew Tour stop at Snowbasin (Feb. 11-13, admission free; there is a Village with sponsor booths and activities).

Both mothers have good advice for parents who see champion potential in their kid. They may participate in a lot of activities, but seem almost obsessed with one in particular. Debbie Battersby says, “You can recognize when they’ve found their niche. I had Ashley in gymnastics, T-ball, piano lessons and more. When she found slopestyle, I recognized that this was what she loved to do. You have to let them pick what they like.”

A child may not show their potential at first. Flanders says good observation is key. “Parents need to know their child. I knew Alex had good balance. If your child falls and bumps into things, maybe they need to be brought up a little more carefully. If a child keeps falling and getting hurt in their sport, I’d advise that parent to make sure the child is well protected with pads and stuff, and gets some instruction to learn how to do the sport properly,” she says.

In most sports, especially action sports, there will be injuries. Nearly every champion athlete has had to fight their way back from one or more injuries, so when—not if—it happens, that’s almost a test. If an accident that causes pain, and down time makes a child to want to quit, maybe a parent needs to recognize that sports are not part of that child’s future.

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But as a parent, you can’t let your own fear of falling place limits on your kid. Flanders says, “I always told Alex to know what he could do and trust his own instincts. If his friends are egging him on to do something, and he’s not sure if he can safely pull it off, then be man enough to say ‘No, I’m not doing it.’ ”

Then there is the biggest factor: the parents’ required sacrifice. Raising a champion may require a convoluted schedule that starts with, say, driving a budding ice skater to the rink at 5 in the morning, picking them up hours later to get them to school, then repeating the process in the afternoon. The sport will become a potential champion’s obsession—and Mom and Dad must be equally obsessed. “The one who grows up to be a winner will have a passion, a love in their heart, for their sport,” says Battersby.

Raising a champion will take most of a family’s money and time. But in many cases, it takes something even more radical: relocation. Utah is paradise for winter athletes, but a gymnast, figure skater or other athlete may only be able to find good coaching by moving elsewhere. There are usually programs where a promising young athlete can be housed with a host family while training. Some (not all) are expensive—so the child is not only absent, but the parents have to pay for it.

But when that child’s dreams finally start to come true and they’re standing on a podium, bending for a medal to be hung around their neck, the glowing look on the faces of parents always seems to send the same message: “It was all worth it.”

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About The Author

Wina Sturgeon

Bio:
Wina Sturgeon is an outdoor adventurer and a Salt Lake City freelance writer.

More by Wina Sturgeon

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