With the Tokyo 2021 Olympics drawing to a close, I am reminded of the length of the journey a world-class athlete undertakes to prepare for, and participate in this competition of all competitions. There is no such thing as overnight success. I ask myself the question then, “How different is this to parenting?” We too have a long-term goal: to help our child over 18 years to grow into an adult who will be able to live independently of us one day and go out and create their own mark on the world. Parenting requires Olympian thinking!
Even by Olympic-preparation standards, 18 years is a long time, and we must keep focused all the while on what we are trying to achieve, with interim goals such as these:
- Get them through toddlerhood in one piece
- Get them school-ready to ease their entry into the education system
- Get them through primary school – it is the foundation for being a literate human being
- Get them through high school so that they have access to tertiary education if they wish
- Help them to develop a positive self-esteem
- Help them to discover who they are, what makes them tick – vital for enabling them to make the best choices for themselves and for selecting a possible career path that might lead to fulfilment and happiness
- Help them to learn the art of socialising and making friends – networking is an essential part of making it in the world of work
- Teach them manners and a sense of personal responsibility so that they are respected too
- Pass on the baton of responsibility by teaching them life skills for independent living
This is not an exhaustive list but each one of the points above is akin to a swimming coach making subtle and not so subtle corrections to an Olympic swimmer’s strokes in the pool; to a coach teaching an Olympic runner to pace themselves for the distance – when to maintain a speed and when to push; to a weight lifter and his coach hitting the gym at 5 am every morning for years on end.
There are four years between each Olympic event. That’s pretty long-range planning by today’s standards, requiring patience, focus and determination from everyone concerned. Interim goals are set – preparing for, and competing in local competitions, qualifying for international events to be able to test your mettle against the best in the world (after all, one must get to know the competition and continually be bettering your personal best).
Coaches and athletes are a team working towards the big picture. In much the same way, there are five or six years in each of the preschool, primary and high school phases. Parents set the training programme for their child’s development, adjusting it where necessary as the journey unfolds with its obstacles, challenges, learnings and unexpected opportunities along the way.
Parents must go the distance and have big-picture, long-haul thinking to prepare their children for life – the ultimate Olympic event. I’m not sure who the Olympians are in this case – the parents or the children, or maybe both?