I still remember sitting in that small room looking at the fuzzy black and white image of my then 26 week old daughter. My wife and I were happy not knowing the gender, just seeing all the limbs coming out from all the right places was enough but I do remember joking with the ultrasound technician about what sport “it” would play for Australia. In my minds eye there’s much laughter as my wife looks over to me and smiles thinking how lucky she is to have landed such a comedic talent, in reality I may have just done my first Dad joke.
But Dad jokes aside, there have been a few occasions since then when the wife and I have looked at our daughter and did the “I wonder game”; will she be good at swimming? will she be a great tennis player?, will she be a soccer player, musician, artist etc. Part of the game is to figure out which of these futures put my wife and I in early retirement through the millions of dollars my daughter’s as yet un-demonstrated skill will earn her (us). On a few occasions we’ve taken the game a little further and talked about what it would be like to be the parent of a highly successful young athlete and invariably we decide that there’s got to be easier ways to get out of working for a living.
Take swimming for example. If my daughter happens to graduate from spluttering as she comes up from grabbing the rubber fish at the bottom of the pool to qualifying for the Australian Olympic team, imagine the effort/sacrifices that my wife and I would have made. Firstly, those early mornings we’re hoping she grows out of? Well try 5am, 7 days a week, all year. Swimming also has the disadvantage of only having the Olympics and (at a stretch) the Commonwealth games to make your big impression at. Look at Australia’s James Magnussen, widely touted to sweep every event he entered that will now have to wait four years to prove himself again.
What about tennis? Sharapova who won her first Grand Slam at the age of 17 started hitting a ball at four years of age and was training by the age of 7. Her immediate family’s life revolved around her chasing a fuzzy yellow ball around a court, 7 days a week and then following her around the junior tennis circuit. I’m sure that the early days, prior to her first Grand Slam win involved many more hostels than hotels and like swimming had a similar requirement for strict, parent supported training regimes. (If anyone has 30 minutes to spare there’s a great “Australian Story” about Jade Hopper – a girl tipped to be the next big thing in female tennis and how it worked out for her).
Lastly what about sports that won’t get her on the cover of sports illustrated or a cereal box? What if she’s great at trampolining, synchronised swimming or tandem slalom canoeing? There’s nothing that makes success in these sports any less of an accomplishment but a life devoted to the pursuit of success of these will probably require the working of several jobs and not much to show for it at the end.
I realise that this has been taken from the selfish perspective of preserving my own lifestyle which, from the moment my daughter breathed from blue to pink, was non-existent anyway. I’ve also not touched on how you would handle the emotional effect being a child sporting prodigy can have on their world outlook (eg Tiger Woods). And lastly, if my daughter decided that she really wanted to do something I know that I would do anything I could to let her have a crack at it, regardless of 5am starts or the potential to allow me to retire by 45.
So do you foster any glimmer of talent? If your son or daughter has a chance to make it do you help them grab it with all their might? What would you do?
PS: I realise that statistically, there’s a very small chance of me having to face this problem however if my daughter can maintain the speed that she shown running away from me at the shops, I could be in with a chance.
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