The New York Times has a long article about local runners and triathletes, 12 year old Kaytlynn Welsch and 10 year old Heather Welsch. It is a great read, and much of it is very positive, as it should be. These girls work hard, and are unbelievable athletes. But there are also some critical parts. Specifically, whether their parents are too hard on them. Whether they should be allowed to run, swim and bike as much as they do.
I get that extra care needs to be taken with young athletes. That’s a given. But in my opinion, anything other than effusive praise for the Welsch sisters is misguided. We should be having parades for them, not directing them back to the kiddie pool.
Delaney competes often with the Welsch sisters in triathlons. One of the many things I enjoy about watching these triathlons is seeing the Welsch girls bike or run by. It is poetry, pure and simple. They always win their divisions, and Delaney, happily between them in age, almost always wins hers. When I see these girls go by, I don’t see children being browbeat into racing as some proxy for a tyrannical parent. I see young women who are really, really good at something, who know that being the best takes work, and who will benefit from the resulting mindset for the rest of their lives- whether they continue to race or not. I see poetry. Girl power. I see kids who understand the joy that comes from doing hard things well.
I don’t see kids being forced to do something they hate. I see kids being supported in doing something they love. And learning how to work hard and succeed in the process. I see hundreds of kids who got up really early on a weekend to swim, bike and run. I see parents nurturing an active lifestyle that will pay a lifetime of dividends. I see awesome.
Delaney swims at an elite level, does triathlons, runs cross country and plays basketball. Not because Raina or I want her to; because she’s good at sports and she likes to compete. She is willing to work hard to be good. Sure, at the end of a long race, she’ll say she’s never doing another one. Sure, she’ll cry sometimes if she gets beat. I have a great video of her friend and teammate, Emily, running one of the strongest cross country finishes I have ever seen. Right across the finish line, someone asks them how it went. “Terrible,” replied Emily as she tried to catch her breath. Then the next race rolls around and they’re out there ready to go. Doing work (to quote our oft used phrase) and enjoying it is a mindset.
I don’t know the Welsch family personally. Other that an encouraging yell as they fly by, I’ve never spoken to the girls. Raina has talked to Rodney Welsch a few times, and found him to be friendly and helpful. I have seen them at many races, and nothing I have seen looks remotely wrong. It looks right. Hard, but right.
And as far as the whole motivation thing…
I always ask Delaney how she did after a big swim meet. If she didn’t have her best race, I ask her if she needs floaties. She knows, beyond a doubt, that I love her like crazy and that the only reason I can be (or more accurately appear to be) hard on her is because I know she is good. If I came up to her after a bad race and didn’t ask her- yes, with a smile on my face- who put that boot in her rear end, she would instantly realize that something was wrong. You simply don’t motivate an elite athlete solely by telling them it’s OK, you tried. One of the best examples of coaching Delaney has received was when her Rice Aquatics coach got in her grill about something she did wrong, in a race she won. Or the other day, when she was scheduled to swim a 100 meter freestyle race an hour after winning a cross country race. Delaney walked up and started to tell her coach she was too tired to swim and wanted to scratch. He cut her off mid-sentence, telling her that the race was about to start and to go line up. When she told me this story afterwards, she was grinning ear to ear. She got it. She gets it.
Granted, athletes have to know that you can be very good without winning every race, or any race. Missy Franklin knows that. Delaney knows that. The Welsch sisters know that.
They just want to win.