There’s so much talk today of what role parents should take in the lives of their children. Parents in sport seem to be constantly accused of either being overprotective and not allowing their kids to learn from loss, or else being too distant and letting their kids have too much responsibility.
Where is the middle ground? How do we define the role of parents in sport in general and in fencing in particular?
These aren’t questions that we can answer directly, but they’re questions that are worth asking because they help us to explore what we’re doing and to get better at it.
Parents define their children
We do this without even thinking, in a thousand ways through our interactions every single day.
I really believe parents define their kids and how they will be in the future. That’s a hefty responsibility, but it’s what we signed on for the moment that we became parents. It’s weighty but joyous at the same time. There is nothing in life like the feeling of seeing a child become the person that we can tell they were meant to be.
As parents we define our children by the way that we facilitate their dreams. We make choices that create the world in which they live, and in many ways it’s our guidance that even determines which dreams they have at all.
We naturally bring our own goals and vision to their experiences in sport, in academics, and in life. I don’t think we should turn away from that. Rather we should see the shared nature of this thing we call family. I make decisions that deeply affect the way that life comes out for my children. My priorities affect the way that their fencing careers will play out.
The role of a fencing parent is about encouraging kids to follow their own path while still setting boundaries that we see fit, boundaries that we see as necessary for their wellbeing. A child might be passionate about fencing, wanting to practice to the exclusion of other responsibilities like academics. How far we let them go into that sport is a judgement call. For some of us, it might mean that B’s on schoolwork are acceptable, for others it might not as we think it’s important to see that report card with all A’s down the line. Which emphasis we place on those kinds of balance questions is defining for young fencers and their future.
Judgement calls are a part of each and every day as a parent. It’s through our decisions that we define our kids and what their lives will look like today, tomorrow, and far into the future.
Sacrifices for our fencers
We’ve been inspired by this article in the The Players Tribune that was written by Olympic gold medal winning soccer star Alex Morgan. Take the time to read it when you’ve got a moment – you’re sure to be touched just as we were.
In the piece, she talks a great deal about the sacrifices that her parents made for her as she pursued her passion for sport. Her words are emotional for many of us because we see them mirrored in our own lives as parents of fencers. She beautifully recognizes the ways in which her parents stepped back and gave up things for her. Whether it was giving up vacation time, putting off other activities that they’d love to be doing, working through financial hardships, or staying up instead of sleeping, Alex’s parents put her passion for her sport at the top of their priority list.
For her, those sacrifices gave her a springboard for a soccer career that would carry her all the way to the top of the podium in the biggest event in the world. Her parents didn’t know that’s where she’d end up when they started – they just knew that their daughter loved her sport. They did what they thought they should for the betterment of their children.
What’s so beautiful is the way that she recognizes the sacrifices that they’ve made for her. Your children recognize the sacrifices that you’re making for them too, even if they don’t always show it.
Fencing parenting is never mastered
I know that I’m still learning what is to be a good fencing parent, even though looking back I can see that I have a lot of experience in both fencing coaching and in fencing parenting. I see so many mistakes that I’ve made along the way, places that I could have done more to help my kids achieve.
The role of a fencing parent is to always be learning, to never feel as though we’ve got it completely figured out. Our kids might look at us and imagine that we are confident in everything that we’re doing, that we know what’s going on and can do everything. That’s of course not at all how it feels to us most of the time.
Fencing, like many other sports, can be grueling. There are so many moving parts, and parents are not immune to feeling overwhelmed. For the most part our kids don’t see those things, they don’t see the way that we stumble along. Our kids look up to us and see the love that is behind our actions, and that’s what really matters.
Being a fencing parent is one of the most fulfilling jobs that I’ve had in my life. My role is constantly changing, constantly growing – just as my children are constantly changing and growing through fencing.