Our favorite Olympians – including Latino stars like Ryan Lochte, John Orozco, Danell Leyva – have astounded international audiences with their extraordinary athleticism and captivating charm. But as it turns out, the secret to their incredible success away from the gym lies a little closer to home, with the families that supported them every step of the way.
“There are a few key messages about parenting that anyone can take away from watching the Olympics,” says Ana Nogales, a clinical psychologist who has practiced in Southern California for nearly 37 years. “It’s no secret that without unconditional love and encouragement, it can be hard for a child to achieve their dreams – regardless of whether they’re a gold medalist or not.”
For Dr. Nogales, the Olympics can be an opportunity to gather the family around the television to enjoy the competitive nature of the games – and to learn some key messages about building healthy, happy families.
Showing affection is an important part of raising awesome kids
Danell Leyva may be taking home a bronze medal in gymnastics, but to his step-dad, Yin Alvarez, he certainly was a gold-medal athlete during the London 2012 Olympics. After nearly every performance – whether the floor exercise, pommel horse, or rings – Alvarez showered his son with kisses and hugs.
“It’s extremely important for both parents to show their child affection,” says Dr. Nogales, who notes that for stepparents like Alvarez, sharing a passion with their step-child is a wonderful way to bond. “Providing for your child goes so much further than making sure they’re fed, clothed. Affection is the most preliminary, basic need that we all have and for a young person, demonstrating love for them is an integral part of feeling support and unconditional love.”
No one is perfect – but each day is a fresh start
Olympians practice their sport day in and day out for years hoping to become gold medal athletes. But all of that arduous practice and dedication doesn’t necessarily yield a perfect score performance – just ask John Orozco or Ryan Lochte. Parents should encourage their children to use mistakes as a learning opportunity, says Dr. Nogales, stressing the fact that mistakes are a chance to mature.
“When a child makes a mistake, parents should take time to sit down and ask them how they can avoid making the same mistake again,” suggests Dr. Nogales. “There’s no point in examining the degree of the mistake or immediately providing a solution on how to rectify the situation.” And while offering pointers on how to avoid a similar mistake going forward may seem easiest in terms of time, says Dr. Nogales, in the long run, you’re depriving your child the process of self-discovery and growth.
Encourage your child’s passion – not your own
Extraordinary athletes become Olympians by dedicating themselves fully to their sport. And the healthiest, most well-rounded athletes do so of their own volition – a fact that Dr. Nogales says discourages “helicopter parenting.” But there’s a fine line – just ask Ryan Lochte’s mother, Ileana. She was a swimmer in her youth and coached her son in the sport until he was 12.
“It’s extremely important for children to know what their parent’s passions are,” explains Dr. Nogales, who founded Casa de la Familia, a non-profit mental health wellness center for the Latino community in Santa Ana, California. “And if your child makes that passion their own, great. But sometimes parents can have an expectation that your child will follow your footsteps and unconsciously, can project their goals onto them – which is very unhealthy.”
So go ahead: expose your child to your interests and hobbies, but encourage them to make their own choices and respect their passions – because ultimately, your relationship will be stronger for it.
Inspire your kid to be their personal best
Only the very top athletes in any given sport make it to the Olympics – and for many, winning a medal is the ultimate measure of success. The pressure to be “the best” is a constant for these athletes, and for young people, the pressure can often be unbearable. The pressure doesn’t spare Olympic parents either. Just ask William and Damaris Orozco, who have been spotted cheering on – and crying for – their son in the stands during his performances. For any parent, the best support they can offer their child is the mindset that every day is an opportunity to achieve your personal best, says Dr. Nogales.
“The worst parents can do is to compare a child to their siblings, friends, family or competition,” explains Dr. Nogales. “Each child is unique and there is no value in comparing them to others.”