How to manage parents

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

"So, have you made the team yet? Can you get me tickets? Where can I stay?"

Any Olympic hopeful in heavy training, battling for selection to the 2010 Olympic team, isn't likely to have answers to those questions. That's why excited friends and family can unwittingly stress out their athlete over the logistics of going as a spectator -- never mind wanting to hang out together during the Games.

For sure, most parents of Olympic athletes have done countless things right for their kids. But still, "parent management" -- managing expectations and having a plan -- will be a key to success for Canadian athletes at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics next February.

"I've had athletes, the year before, say to me, 'Oh my God, my parents are driving me crazy talking about tickets to Torino, to Athens, and you have to tell your parents to go figure it out on their own," said sports psychologist Penny Werthner.

"From my perspective in sports psychology, with the athletes and coaches and teams I work with, we talk very specifically about parents. Are your parents going to come to the Olympics, and if they are, when do you want to see them, and when do you not want to see them?"

Werthner, a University of Ottawa assistant professor who works primarily with athletes in canoe/kayak and curling, was pleased but also concerned when she heard of a program for up to 500 immediate family members of the 2010 Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams.

The Petro-Canada's Canadian Athlete Family Program -- with a budget of more than $3 million -- will accommodate and host two immediate family members of all participating Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes competing at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. It includes up to four nights of accommodations, meals and event tickets.

"I think it's a great program," said Werthner. "Your parents support you for so many years, and some of them can't afford to go. But I have concerns with parents also being a distraction. They need to ensure they're educating the parents about what to expect."

Some teams have ironclad schedules for team dinners and meetings, and designated times for athletes to socialize with family. Individual sports allow for more flexibility. The optimal model will, of course, be different for everybody.

For 2010 bobsleigh hopeful Heather Moyse, her family is ideal. The tight-knit family from P.E.I. has planned its trip to the Vancouver Olympics independently of her, looking at it as a holiday. If they get to see Moyse race down the Whistler track, that's a bonus. She won't know until Jan. 17 if she makes the team.

"They've been pretty phenomenal at keeping that pressure away from me," said Moyse, a brakeman. "It does come down to a bit of vocabulary and how they speak about the Games. For my family to be proud of me, it has nothing to do with sport."

At the 2006 Turin Olympics, Moyse and Helen Upperton raced to a fourth-place finish by 5/100ths of a second. Moyse had taken up the sport just months before, leveraging her national team rugby experience to produce record-breaking push starts.

Her family organized their trip to Italy independently from her and even attended other events.

The fact that Canadian team parents will be able to navigate Vancouver easier than a foreign country is comforting. But it could also make it easier for them to get in the way. Werthner finds it's best to frame the "managing parents" conversation in a performance perspective.

"There's no parent that doesn't want their child to do well, heaven forbid," Werthner said. "So when you put it in that framework, they're more than eager to do the best thing."

ALISON_KORN@HOTMAIL.COM


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