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July 12, 2023

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 126

Encore: Raising an Athlete? Advice from an Olympic Mom

Episode 126

Three time Olympian and Mom of three, Lauren Regula explains how we can all better manage the stresses of school sports. What do you really need to know when raising an athlete. I was surprised by the one question she asks her kids every night at the dinner table. We’ve started asking the same question in our home. We hope you’ll enjoy this encore presentation.

July 12, 2023 | 25 min

Transcript | Encore: Raising an Athlete? Advice from an Olympic Mom

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 126: Encore: Raising an Athlete: Advice from an Olympic Mom

 

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional

mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,

consult a physician or mental health professional.

 

REENA: Well, I’m so excited for our guest today, Lisa, because I don’t know about you, I was the high school nerd, and I sat on left bench on every single sports team in high school.

 

LISA: I actually played sports in high school, and it was a big part of my life.

 

REENA: You did?

 

LISA: I did. I played in the fall and the spring and then I grew up in Colorado so we skied all winter, and, you know, I’m a decent athlete, nothing special, but for me it was a huge part of my high school career, and I’ve continued to, you know, enjoy working out ever since, but I loved it in high school.

 

REENA: Yeah, I appreciate the value of sports after. Now, being 42 and realizing how much it helps me mentally. So, I can’t wait to have our next guest sort of talk to us about her take on it. So Lauren Regula is not only a mom of three, she’s a three-time Olympian. She found her way back to the Olympics at the age of 38, but most recently, she won a bronze medal while at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games at the age of 40. I just love that. She was 40 when she won a bronze medal. She’s also an entrepreneur and a big advocate of kids playing multiple sports, but also kids having fun in sports, and she believes that sport is a great way to allow kids to grow into amazing human beings.

 

LISA: Lauren, welcome. We are so excited to have you with us.

 

LAUREN: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here. I love talking sports, I love talking kids, so I’M excited.

 

LISA: Fantastic. Okay, so out of the gate here’s our first question. For you, what do you most want parents to know if they’re thinking about trying to raise a high performing athlete?

 

LAUREN: I’m probably going to go against what a lot of people are going to think I’m going to say. Enjoyment. Enjoying what you’re doing. So, there is no guarantee where we’re going to go in sports, but I can guarantee you for your child to reach their potential, they have to stay on the court. They have to stay on the field. They have to stay on the track. And it’s so important for us as parents to understand that we’re not going to have an 8-year-old Olympian, right? And what matters when you’re 8? Enjoying it. What matters is your kid coming up to you and saying, hey, Mom, I can’t wait to go to basketball practice. I’m excited to go play you know soccer, or whatever that sport maybe or activity. So, I think enjoyment, especially when they’re young, is huge.

 

REENA: You know, Lauren, my parents are from India and sports were not really valued in our home. It was all about academics and studying hard, and as I mentioned in the intro, you know, now at age 42, I’m obsessed with tennis and golf and I realize how it helps me mentally. We got a letter from a parent who says: ‘How do you encourage kids to be more active?’ She says that her child is a healthy weight, but she wants her to have that excitement for sports. What do you do if your kid just doesn’t have that?

 

LAUREN: Well, I’m a believer that there’s something for everybody and that’s why I love multi sports. It’s why I love kids trying and exploring in every area of their life, and sports is no different. So, one, I would say continue to search for things, and it may not be the conventional basketball, baseball. Maybe it’s hiking, maybe it’s running, maybe it’s mountain biking. There are so many avenues that I think we can use as sport for health as opposed to immediately getting into competitive sports. So, that would be the first thing I would say is explore, and the second thing I would say is explore with them. I think kids understand what we do, and this is probably a better conversation for Lisa, but I always think of it for as an athlete and as a mom. If I’m willing to get out there, then our kids look at me and say, hey, guess what? Mom’s doing it. So, I encourage parents to do it with their children. Go for hikes with them, go grab a basketball, go grab a soccer soccer ball regardless if you’re good at it or not. That’s the point, right? We have to show kids that no one picks up a basketball and becomes an NBA player after two dribbles. So, explore and get out there with your kids would be my two suggestions.

 

LISA: I love that, and I always love when we have cross pollination across different episodes of the podcast, and one of the things that came up again and again when we’re talking about kids and weight management and health and eating is making activity fun. Don’t make exercise a punishment. Don’t make this something that they have to go do. Like do it as a family,  find fun ways. So, it’s always fascinating to me when the same principles reappear across different things. Okay, Lauren, let’s talk, though, that said, about kids getting to the next level, which you have basically made a life of getting to the highest levels. Here’s what we have from a parent: ‘My kid is a 15-year-old competitive swimmer who swims both high school and club teams. She is very, very good. Will probably be welcome on many D3 college teams. But there are girls, on both her current teams, who are better. Several will swim D1 in college, and at least one will likely make the Olympic trials. My kid is very driven academically as well, and tends toward perfectionism and anxiety. She complains about hard practices and early mornings, but rejects the idea of quitting. How do I get her to focus on her own success and strength in the pool and not feel defeated when she’s not the best in her pool?’

 

LAUREN: What a great question. So, this is why I love sport is because it does teach you. It teaches you that fight. It teaches you the never give up attitude, and I think, as parents, we want to jump in and figure out how to fix that, but her, you know, child essentially going through these trials and tribulations is building up a resiliency. It’s building up an opportunity for her child to know that there’s always someone better than you. I went to the Olympics three times and there’s always someone better than me, there’s always going to be someone I’m better than, right? As a kid it’s hard to understand at the time when you see people and you’re like, I want to be there, but I think it’s important for parents and kids to talk about goals. Why are we swimming? What can we get out of swimming? Is your goal is it to be an Olympian or if you really love academics, man we can use sports to help us get into really amazing colleges and that is huge, and so I think it we need to define success with what our kids think success is within our own families and not within what other people consider success, and it’s not an easy conversation by any means, but the struggle through sport is what makes sport beautiful, in my opinion.

 

LISA: That gave me goosebumps.

 

LAUREN: Yeah, it really, really is what makes sport beautiful, and it’s such a parallel to life and as much as we want to do everything we can to ease the pain from our kids, helping them understand that it’s part of the process, and you’ve said this before and I’m using this in my own life now with my own kids, Lisa, is sometimes practices just stink. They do. There’s nothing you can say about it but when she says, I want to get up and I’m going to go back to practice, celebrate that. Celebrate getting up, right? Fall eight times, get up nine, and so it’s not an easy conversation, but I do think it’s important for parents and children to understand why they’re playing their sports, what are they trying to get out of it, and it’s going to look different from athlete to athlete.

 

REENA: You know what aboutnMalcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, you put in 10,000 hours you can start to be good at anything. Are we setting our kids up for failure with sports by saying just focus on it, just practice and you’ll get there, you’ll be that top athlete?

 

LAUREN: I do. I feel like there’s a lot that goes into sport. You can’t out-practice genetics. That’s just something that’s a fact, and I know a lot of parents want to believe that if you just put in the time, you’re going to get there, and that the 10,000 hours has since been debunked, but it was something that was grabbed on to by parents and run with like crazy, and I think it’s important for us to understand there’s so many factors that go into high level sport, right? Genetics is definitely one. Work ethic is one. Of course, your practicing and your time in your discipline or in your sport absolutely that matters, but it’s not one, it’s all of them, and you can have a kid that practices half the time but genetically has a different talent or a different gift, and it may not seem fair but that one child is going to probably win that spot, and so I think it’s important again, and my husband and I have had this conversation, what are the goals? What are your goals as parents for your kids in sports? And if we don’t know what that is, if we’re just in the rat race because other people are doing it or if we just want to wear the good, you know, the best club and say, man, my kid plays for the best club, why do we have our kids in sports? And this is where I think we have to actually ask ourselves these questions. Is it because I think my kids can have an opportunity at a scholarship? Is it because of the parents’ expectation? Is that the children’s expectation? Oftentimes those expectations don’t line up. A parent signs up a child for a really high level club, it’s 90 minutes away. There’s resentment on the driving. The child doesn’t want to go, and at the end of the day it was the parent who signed the child up, and so I think expectations and goals of why we’re playing sport and having our kids and our parents understand that very few people make it to the top, top level, right? So, what can we get out of sport? There are a million things our kids can gain from sport if they don’t make it to the NBA.

 

LISA: I love that. Actually, I want to follow up on that genetics question because one of the things that’s very hard to perceive when you watch professional athletes on television is how differently they’re constructed than everybody else, and I remember one time I was in the CBS green room with Derek Jeter, and, you know, he obviously is an extraordinary athlete, but it wasn’t just that was it he was fit, you know, it wasn’t just that he was athletic I mean if you could have lined him up with like 40 other guys, same size, same level of fitness, he is built differently than the humans I have normally been around and then other times when I’ve been near professional athletes, when you’re near them physically, something becomes obvious that TV hides and one of the things I always have like, if I could do like a fly on the wall thing, the Olympic village. I would love to check out the Olympic village. Like what? Can you just describe it? Indulge me for a minute, but also on this genetics question because I think it’s really something that’s hard to pick up if you’re only watching on television or you only see them at a great distance.

 

LAUREN: Absolutely, and it’s funny you say that. My brother played 10 years in Major League Baseball for a couple different teams, and we actually just took our kids down to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played for them. And we were down on the field watching them take batting practice, and from the stands you do not understand how different these players look because they all look like they’re about 5’5 when you’re really far away. Same thing on TV is you see all of the top sprinters and they all look similar or have some similar traits so you don’t really realize how different they look, and I can tell you walking around the village I called my husband I think every day, and I would go, I just forgot because I had been out of the game and out of the sport for so long, I took 12 years off, I forgot what an Olympic village looked like. My mouth was open, my mask was on so no one could see, but my mouth was open half the time just looking around at these specimens. I’m like, okay everyone’s 6’5 to 6’7 and everyone’s just jacked, in just amazing shape, and then of course you have your diff different disciplines, right? You see a rowing team come in and they’re 6’8 and then you have the coxswain who’s coming in at 4’11, and everyone has their place, but you can tell. You can just look at someone, and again, I’ve been to multiple Olympic villages and I walked around with the sheer admiration of not only the hard work that you can tell went into that, you know, their bodies, but they just look different.

 

LISA: They do. It’s fascinating, actually. I mean it’s a fascinating thing, and I think it’s good for parents to know that because your kid can work really hard and be really athletic and try really hard and then they come up against one of these, like, beautiful specimens that just was dealt a different biological hand, and and that’s a reality.

 

REENA: You know that’s a good transition to another question that we got, which is: ‘How can you tell where your child’s natural talents lie?’ One parent writes in asking about elementary school sports saying: ‘It’s so competitive and so intense. It’s schedule-overloaded,’ and they’re asking how do we approach this with kids when already in elementary school that intensity has already been kicked in?

 

LAUREN: Well, this is exactly why I’m excited to be on this podcast because I want to explain how important it is for kids to try as many sports as they can. When I go to do camps for softball, people will say, how did you know that softball was going to be your sport? And I said I didn’t. When I was 12 years old, if I was doing what I thought I wanted to do at 12 years old I would be a hairdresser in trail BC because you just don’t know, and kids develop at different ages. I have seen it with my own two eyes very often, I won’t say always or never, but very often the best 8-year-old isn’t the best 18-year-old. Kids need to grow into their bodies and they need to grow into their mobility and they need to grow into their movements, and it’s so important for us parents to allow our children the opportunity to explore. How do you know if you’re going to be good at basketball if you don’t play it? How do you know that maybe you played baseball and you realize you’re the speedster on the team, o, that allows you an opportunity to go try track. But this idea that we have to pigeon hole our kids at 8 years old, 9 years old, into one sport, not only limits them from reaching their potential in the sport that they may be best at, but it also pigeon holes them into a sport that they may not be happy with, they may not enjoy in a year or two from now, and so sports are getting very competitive very early, and I know personally for our family we choose clubs and teams that are very mid tier. I stay away from anything that is, you know, the most dominant club and clubs you have to commit to all year round and you can’t play anything else. We stay clear away from those.

 

LISA: Can you unpack that a little more? I’m curious because I’m interested in the psychological side, actually I’m curious also on the physical side about the impact on kids’ bodies.

 

LAUREN: Yeah, absolutely. So, again, when we think of burnout with kids we often think of physical burnout, and this is something that I’m huge into and I tell my kids all the time. If you decide you don’t like soccer, that’s fine. What’s next, right? We’re just going to keep trying things if you like it, great, we can run with it. If you don’t, okay, what’s next? So, we think of burnout as injuries. In our local school district which actually just had six ACLs, six, on one soccer team on a high school soccer team, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid in my own family. So, I want my kids to learn different movement patterns. I want them to go play all the different sports so they don’t use their bodies in the same way over and over and over. A parent came up to me, of a daughter of a softball player and asked me and said, you know, my daughter also plays volleyball and they’re concerned because they’re afraid it’s going to be overused and I thought, oh no, volleyball’s great. You want to do something different than softball. You’re actually gaining muscle and you’re gaining strength in other areas. So, of course the physical part is so important, but what I think is extremely underestimated is the excitement of sport. If you have a soccer ball at your feet from when you’re 5 years old, 365 days a year, you’re going to look at that soccer ball like, it’s just a soccer ball. You’re not going to have that excitement and there’s mental burnout. There’s emotional burnout when it comes to kids. Of course when we get older into high school it’s a different conversation, but when our kids are younger, nothing can replace excitement on having the glove on your hand. Okay now it’s time to put my glove away, okay, now it’s time to bring out the volleyball. Time to put the volleyball away, now it’s time to bring out the basketball. Whatever it may be for your kids, that excitement. They’re children, right? Like to me that’s what’s going to make them want to continue to play.

 

LISA: Right? Like sports are for fun. Like that should be, for me, always at the center it. That we play sports for fun.

 

LAUREN: I’m 40. I just got done with an Olympics, and our mental performance coach came up to me when I was going through some difficult moments, and he just looked at me and he goes, you know what Lauren? You don’t work softball, you play softball. Go have some fun.

 

LISA: I love that. I love that.

 

LAUREN: And I thought, if it’s good enough for a 40-year-old at the Olympics I’m pretty sure that’s good enough for an 8-year-old kid, right?

 

REENA: I never thought about talking about failure with my kids. That was such a valuable piece of intel that she gave me.

 

LISA: I learned so much from what she had to say, and I’m just, I’m so grateful for her everywoman approach to sports. I mean here you have this person who is a total super here for the world. I mean has achieved things that are just outrageously hard to do, and she could not have brought a more grounded view of what sports are about, what sports are for, and how they can benefit everyone, regardless of where they’re headed or where they end up.

 

REENA: It makes you really rethink why you put kids in sports to begin with, which is something that had never really thought about much.

 

LISA: Sure does.

 

REENA: So, Lisa, what do you have for us for parenting to go?

 

LISA: What I was thinking about as Lauren was laying her wisdom on us is that so much of what she was sharing about how sports help kids, had to do with the parts that we tend to perceive as negative. The frustrations, the failures, the losing that she talked about, and I think that’s often where growth happens. It happens in pain, and that’s such a strange thing as a parent to get used to the idea that emotional discomfort is actually what fosters growth, and that we should not shield our children from experiences that might be emotionally uncomfortable. In fact, we might even try to find situations to put them in where they’ll have to come up against painful feelings in the name of growing.

 

REENA: Why is that so hard for us to do?

 

LISA: I think there’s something instinctive. You just don’t want to see your kid in pain, and there’s so much good in that, and yet if we could give our children a painless childhood, we would deliver to the world humans who could not function in the day to day.

 

REENA: I never looked at it that way, but you’re absolutely right. We would so shield and protect our kids, but it really is good to hear from you that it’s not the right thing to do. Leaning into that is probably really valuable.

 

LISA: Yeah, we’ve got to help them grow.

 

REENA: Well, next week we can have an encore episode about confidence and self esteem. How Do I Build My Kid’s Confidence and Self Esteem? I’ll see you next week, Lisa.

 

LISA: I’ll see you next week.

 

 

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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