Being the parent or coach of a young athlete is an art, not a science. Science is exact, and A plus B always equals C. But sports coaching and parenting are different. Your children are your blankcanvas, and years from now, they will be the culmination of the messages they have received, the opportunities they have had, and the values they have learned by being an athlete. Like art, in coaching and parenting there are infinite textures, colors, and styles of that all lead to the final product, and no two kids are the same. You will have to constantly learn, to adapt, to listen, and be ready to change on the fly as you navigate your child’s athletic career. Raising a young athlete can be brilliant, it can be exasperating, but ultimately it can be the most wonderful and rewarding experience of our life.
10 Rules for Parents of Athletes by Lloyd Percival
Lloyd Percival, a fitness expert, developed 10 rules for parents of athletic children. Maybe your child will become a great player some day, and maybe they won’t, but they will be a better person if you follow these rules.
BY JOSHUA CLAYTON | JUNE 25, 2020, 11 A.M. (ET)
Kari Miller competes at the Paralympic Games London 2012 on Sept. 3, 2012 in London.
For Kari Miller, the road to Paralympic gold wasn’t a straight shot, but one full of twist, turns and detours.
But the three-time Paralympian looks back and says each turn was just another exercise of adaptability and perseverance that led to a sitting volleyball gold medal at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
While serving in the military in 1999, Miller was hit by a drunk driver causing her to lose both of her legs. Suddenly the multisport athlete who loved to run track and play basketball could no longer do so in the same way.
“My goal was to be an officer,” said Miller. “When I got in my car accident, it kind of changed me. It was like ‘well what do I do?’ I was feeling kind of lost. When my military career began, I met these awesome people from my unit. They were strong black women. One of the things they taught me was to always keep moving forward.”
Miller immediately began searching for sports she could play as a double amputee, then her mother encouraged her to try wheelchair basketball. Miller admitted she was hesitant to pick up the sport until she actually got in the gym and sat in a chair.
“My entire life I played basketball. I thought I was a baller. I’m from D.C., I’m black. That’s what we do,” Miller said. “I got my chair and I’m rolling and rolling. They gave me the basketball, I dribble it, go to shoot and I missed. One of the little girls who’s in a chair, she comes up, scoops it up and make a little layup from the basket that I missed.”
Miller said from that moment on she was determined to master the sport, and as she refined her skills, she was eventually invited to try out for the U.S. Paralympic Team.
Although she felt good about her chances, she wasn’t selected for the final roster and was forced to make another pivot with her college career coming to an end.
As she started looking for another competitive sport, one of her teammates introduced her to sitting volleyball. Miller was, once again, hesitant to start the new sport until she got to the court.
Miller was one of the smallest on the team, but what she lacked in size she made up for with speed, sliding into her role as a leader and libero for the last three Paralympic Games in Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro.
However, Miller said she was close to going back to wheelchair basketball after being left off of team for the Paralympic Games Athens 2004.
“At first it was like, forget that I’m going back to basketball, but then I came around like hey this is a cool sport. It’s a great opportunity and for me, it’s one of the only places that I’m unencumbered,” Miller said. “With this sport, I could take my legs off and I can throw myself across the floor and move. I’m fast and it’s an advantage.”
Miller used her speed to help the U.S. sitting volleyball team win silver medals in Beijing and London before finally getting over the hump to win a gold medal over China in Rio in 2016.
When obstacles got in the way, Miller powered through to excel in two sports. When her team couldn’t find the top spot on the podium, she powered through to help deliver the gold. Now, Miller hopes to be an inspiration and encourages athletes to keep moving forward.
“I’ve had a bunch of hurdles and with every bad thing that has occurred, awesome things have come out of it. I feel like there’s a balance,” Miller said. “That’s what I live by. There’s different opportunities. There's different doors open. So always keep your eyes open.”
Relive the moment Miller and the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team brought home the gold as we look back on the Paralympic Games Rio 2016. Coverage will begin June 25th at 7p.m. ET on NBCSN.
BY BY NICKY NIEVES, PARALYMPIC SITTING VOLLEYBALL GOLD MEDALIST | MAY 28, 2020, 2:17 P.M. (ET)
Nicky Nieves celebrates at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 28, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
Nicky Nieves is a Paralympic gold medalist in sitting volleyball. Nieves made her Paralympic Games debut with the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team in Rio in 2016, where the women took home the team’s first-ever gold medal after defeating China. In 2019, Nieves and the U.S. women’s national team won an impressive 25 matches and went undefeated on the year.
To me, mental health is one of the most important factors to the function of a human being. It’s the thing that will make you or break you. It holds so much power, that it can and will affect your thoughts, choices, self-expression and even your ability to interact with others.
Now take all of that power, and partner it with an elite athlete.
This athlete will perform on the world’s highest stage, millions of eyes watching, unexplainable pressure, and must put forth their best efforts not only for themselves, but for their team. This is my life as an athlete playing a team sport.
Mental health is what took the U.S. Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Team from winning silver medals to gold medals. It is the force behind our ability to understand and perform next to each other. Yet, it had not been until our coaching staff decided to have our team work with a sports psychologist, for us to fully grasp just how powerful our mental health was within our dynamic. Being able to voice our worries, our goals, and uplift each other took us from being a good team to a great team.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Not only was I faced with the grim reality the Games wouldn’t be taking place this year, but the reality that the hard work my teammates and I were putting in would come to a screeching halt. Everything from living at our training site, training every day, team camps and traveling for competitions quickly became a thing of the past, and I was confined to the walls of my home in Florida.
I’m not going to lie, I became depressed.
It felt like way too much to deal with all at one time (especially when my cycle of training was preparing myself to peak at the Games this summer). It happened right as I was working up to be my best self. I had all these written goals for my performance, how Tokyo 2020 Nicky would beat out Rio 2016 Nicky, who I would be for my team, how we would perform together, yet that opportunity was taken away from me.
It was in these moments I realized my mental health was in its most fragile state. If I did not find a way to stabilize myself, I would be headed down a slippery slope. Suddenly, everything we had learned in team and individual sessions with our sport psychologist were put to the test.
I can say without a doubt in my mind everything we learned - the team dynamic we built and the support we created for one another - came through and continues to provide for me when I need it the most.
Fortunately, my mental health on the court is just as important as my mental health off of the court. Private sessions, team zooms and phone calls from staff and teammates quickly became a staple in the new normal for our team. What’s so beautiful in the midst of this chaos is the understanding that we depend on each other for success not only athletically, but in life, now more than ever.
Don’t confuse this for a picture-perfect painting. There are still things we can and must work on. However, where we once were in comparison to this very moment is a completely different team mentally.
We have created safe spaces with each other; and I know if I ever need to cry and express my hurt I can call one of them. I know when I need time to process, heal, or deal with certain situations they will provide me with grace and love to do so.
I am full of gratitude to be able to have my team supporting me, especially during COVID-19. My team has a unique dynamic, as we have only had 4 teammates retire within the last 8 years. This means that I’ve been able to grow with these ladies, learn what makes them tick, learn their habits, what they need in times of stress, and in turn they understand me and my needs.
This pandemic has taken all training athletes in the midst of preparation for Tokyo 2020, and turned their worlds upside down.
I’m thankful I have a team full of ladies who understand the importance of mental health, who allow me to take the space I need all whilst making me feel supported and loved. Not only do we lift each other up, but we find ways to try and help fill each other emotionally when they need it the most.
If I could recommend something to my fellow athletes out there in this trying time, it would be to find a safe space to express yourself, find where you feel most loved and allow yourself grace (even if the world seems to be crashing in on you).