Go Speed Racer! (and study too): Parenting(?) a Competitive Athlete

2014-03-23 09.12.25Many of you can relate to the peaks and valleys of raising a teenager.  If that teenager is a competitive athlete, the peaks can be towering mountains and the valleys bottomless caverns. I’m struggling a little lately with how to parent in this ecosystem.

Our son has reached a level of ski racing competition that is truly global.  We hear French, Russian, Czech, Slovenian, German, Norwegian and Finnish at the finish line (see what I did there?) of his races this week.  The Australians and Kiwi’s were on the start list. World Cup racers came over after their races in Beaver Creek this weekend to brush up on their giant slalom technique. My son’s body, which has grown quite a bit in the last year, is still small in comparison to many of these men’s tree-trunk legs and beefy arms.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this world, ski racing is a brutal sport.  The young guys compete from the back, fighting nerves and huge course ruts left behind by the bigger, stronger guys.  They compete on a point system, lower is better, and those points go down gradually as the racer fights, race after race, to finish in a better position.  They must complete two runs in order to get a race finish, and often half of the pack fails to cross the finish line in both runs.  They train year round, in the gym and on the hill.  They travel a lot.  They get hurt a lot.  And then they show up at a race and their day could be over after the 6th gate of the first run.

After today’s race, our team packed up their gear and drove to school so that the boys could prepare for finals next week.  Many of their competitors probably went out for a beer.  It’s a little weird and somewhat understandable that my son’s focus on studies is a bit hazy sometimes.

So yesterday, when I woke up to make him a “healthy breakfast” (he got to sleep in until 8:00, a rare luxury) I had the bad sense to check his grades on-line.  And I got a little frustrated with his apparent lack of attention in a couple of classes.  And I woke him up to say, “You better get it together, kid!  You’re clearly taking your eye off the ball.”  And then I stopped.  He had a race beginning in a couple of hours.  He would be pushing his body down an icy hill on razor sharp skis, trying not to mess up, on the edge of crashing, and I was yelling at him about his English grades.  Yikes.  I chose the completely wrong moment to unleash.

<Deep Breath>

He is a good kid.  He is 16.  He and his teammates work extraordinarily hard.  He has passion.  He is critical of himself for not racing as well as he believes he can, and he always feels like he can do better.  I am not a former World Cup ski racer, as are many of the parents of his competitors.  I never ski raced at all.  I can’t give him any advice about how to approach a delay on the course or when to release his edges for the next turn.  I can’t even give him much help with the mental aspects of ski racing.  In fact, I’ve learned to say nothing about any of these things, because I really don’t know what to say.  I’ve never faced the pressures of highly competitive athletics that he does.

I do, however, know how to be a student.  19 years of studentry under my belt, thank you very much.  And so I focus on his school work and try to give him pointers on study skills and time management and suggest that he work ahead.  If I’m honest (though he doesn’t need to hear this) I’ll admit that I wasn’t the best at time management and study skills when I was a junior in high school.  Procrastination seems to be genetic and he is as good at it as I was at his age.  It’s hard to watch him make the mistakes and not-great choices that I once made.  I remind myself that this is his journey.  I cannot be Captain Jean Luc-Picard and “make it so.”

Still, I’m a mom and part of being a mom is nagging a bit here and there (in future at more appropriate times than just before a race) to remind the Young One that this school thing is important.  Racing will end and he will have to make a living some day.  As far as I can tell, the rest of my job description includes providing food, shelter, clothes, gear and a hug from time to time.

Go get ’em! Ski fast! Have fun! (And get some sleep and don’t forget to brush your teeth.)

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