Moms Talk: Good Sports

Supporting a young athlete is harder than it looks.


Danell Levya won the bronze in the men’s gymnastics all around on Wednesday. I knew when it happened, because I could hear his dad’s happy screams in my house, all the way from London. 

And I wasn’t even watching TV.

There’s been a lot of conversation about Yin Alvarez, Danell’s stepfather and coach, and his exuberant reactions. From the amusement of the NBC commentators to the negative reactions of many online commenters, his strong and vocal support of his son draws attention.

He’s engaging.

He’s too loud.

It’s hilarious.

It’s distracting.

Whatever it is, he’s not alone. Aly Raisman’s parents practically did a routine of their own while watching her on the uneven bars. Chad Le Clos’s dad couldn’t even watch him swim, and hid under a flag while his son won gold.

The parents of the athletes are their own story at the Olympics this year. And that’s kind of the problem.

I doubt very much that any of these parents want to take the spotlight off their kids. The reactions we are seeing are normal responses to seeing your child go through an intense event. 

I’m sure I make a fun show myself, moving my body around trying to mentally guide my daughter’s ball after it leaves her hands when we bowl with my husband’s family on Christmas. The Olympic parents are just doing a stronger, more public version of that.

And no matter how much spotlight it steals, it’s better than the alternative. So far, there’s been no brawling in the stands, and no swearing or spitting at a judge.

So it’s better than little league.

We all want our kids to succeed, of course. But when it’s a competition for them, it can become doubly a competition for us. In a world where whose kid stands, talks, sleeps through the night, or reads first becomes a way to score points over other parents, how much more so when there actually are points?

I tried to stay out of it by keeping my daughter out of sports. It wasn’t as hard as you’d think, even with a very athletic kid. When she was young, she didn’t like being told what to do, so our attempts at coached things always sank like a stone. If you don’t like coaching, you won’t like gymnastics, soccer, or almost anything else that I’d happily run her to one session of.

“Oh, you don’t like it? That’s a shame.” And then the secret internal gloating Bond villain laugh. No 5 a.m. practices for me. No cheering in the cold. No fighting my urge to punch the kid who blocked her shot.

Then, this summer, I talked to her about swim lessons. Swimming had been my one “you are not allowed to quit” event; I can’t live around this many lakes and not have my child know how to swim. However, she’s become quite a good swimmer, and I feel we’re to the point where she could stop lessons, since I now feel safe when we’re within sight of water.

When I suggested she quit, she looked at me like I was crazy, and said, “No, mom, after the next level, I want to be on the swim team.”

Deep, defeated Bond villain sigh.

5 a.m. practices. Cheering in the cold. Fighting the urge to punch the clock.

So if I watch the video of Mrs. Phelps momentarily thinking her son took the gold, and it gives me shivers instead of a chuckle, you know why. 

I love my daughter, and I do want her to succeed. But this fall, I’ll still be praying…please don’t be good, please don’t be good.

But if she is, I'll be her Yin Alvarez. Look for me in the stands—I’ll be the one screaming, with the flag over my head.


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