The controversy-laden Winter Olympics draw to a close this Sunday in Beijing – and for some of the athletes and for many fans boycotting the games altogether due to China’s concerning and disturbing human rights record, it won’t be a minute too soon.
But Thursday’s women’s free skate competition descended into chaos when Russia’s Alexandra Trusova, age 17, realizing she had lost the gold medal despite a remarkable performance, lost her composure and shouted for all to hear, “I hate this sport! I won’t go onto the ice again.”
Adding to the drama was the ongoing fallout of Russia’s treatment of star skater Kamilia Valieva. After the 15-year-old struggled through her competition earlier in the week, dashing her hopes of a medal altogether, Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze’s chastisement was caught on a hot mic.
“Why did you stop fighting?” she berated the chagrined Olympian. “Explain it to me, why? You let it go after that axel.”
The young prodigy remained silent.
On Friday, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, called the comments “chilling.” He added, “I was very, very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on TV. You could feel that this is an immense, immense mental stress. And maybe she would have preferred to leave the ice and to leave this story behind her.”
Adding insult to injury, Valieva remains under investigation for failing a drug test.
To be fair, there is nothing new about aggressive coaches chastising players or losing their cool after an athlete fails to meet expectations. It happens in Russia – and here in the United States, too.
But just because it’s common doesn’t make it right.
Instructing and motivating an athlete is more art than science, and each coach has their own temperament and style to get the job done.
The legendary football coach Lou Holtz once said, “The way you motivate a football team is to eliminate the unmotivated ones.” He then went on to acknowledge, “It’s not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It’s my job not to de-motivate them.”
But there’s been a major shift in recent years regarding children’s athletics, and it’s a troubling one with major implications for the family.
Sports have long captured our imaginations, and for many good reasons. But a highly sophisticated youth sports culture has evolved, generating over $19 billion annually in the United States in fees, equipment, uniforms, camps, travel and other ancillary costs associated with athletic competition. Youth sports is big business, and while there are so many positives about our kids competing, it can still put a financial strain on the family budget.
Yet however quantifiable the dollars can be, youth sports can take its toll on something a bit more nebulous and harder to measure – a family’s time and focus. It can easily dominate and consume us.
It’s one thing to play a Little League game or two at the local park each week or participate in basketball or flag football down at the YMCA – but a whole other thing to be out every night of the week and traveling to distant cities for tournaments on weekends.
Is that degree of investment worth it? It might be for some. For others, it can be time lost with family that will never be captured again.
Each family must decide for themselves what takes priority – but if athletic competitions are keeping you from being an active member of your local church or keeping you from quality time together as a family, you might want to prayerfully reconsider your child’s level of sports involvement.
But getting back to the Olympics – as parents, our hearts break when we watch an adult coach who should know better blast a young woman for falling on the ice. It especially stings because deep down, we know sports – even the Olympics – aren’t nearly as important as properly developing a person’s courage, bravery, character, manners and self-confidence. A child is still a child even when they make an Olympic squad.
Letting children be children in this global, social media-saturated world is an increasingly difficult challenge for moms and dads. Most of us will never have a son or daughter skating in the Olympics, but all of us parents will have children competing on some other stage at some point in time. It’s our job to prepare them as best we know how. In the end, it’s the wise parent who, in the words of Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson, can shape their will without breaking their spirit.