There is at least one at every sporting event — the voice-command parent, the positive cheerleader, the ultra competitor, the blamer, the insulter, the tailgater and the pressurer. The list can go on, but one thing that these parents have in common is the impact that they can have on their athletes, both negatively and positively.
Today, athletes face many obstacles. Whether it’s battling who they are outside their sports or the pressure to perform, it’s a constant battle. The outside pressure to perform from parents plays a key role in how an athlete deals with his or her identity. Often athletes measure who they are by how well they perform and the response they receive from media outlets, fans and performance charts. However, it is important for parents to understand the impact they have both emotionally and spiritually on a young, developing athlete.
Elite gymnast Laurie Hernandez can attest to the powerful influence a parent can have on an athlete. Competing since the age of five, she skyrocketed through the lower levels of gymnastics and began her career as an elite gymnast in 2012 at the tender age of 11. She qualified to the Visa U.S. National Championships her first year and secured a spot on the U.S. Junior National team her second after an impressive second-place finish at the 2013 P&G National Championships.
Hernandez was injured for 2014, but came back with a bang in 2015. She was undefeated both in the U.S. and internationally. She finished her junior elite career as the U.S. National All-Around Champion. Her debut as a senior comes in the all-important Olympic year, where she is one of the youngest members of the 2016 Olympic team.
Throughout Laurie's young career, her family has been a strong, steady supporter and encourager. Laurie’s mother Wanda Hernandez has encouraged her in her Christian faith for as long as she can remember and has always taught her the importance of knowing that God is in control. As a result, Laurie has grown in her faith in Christ, and it has given her a greater purpose, even when the journey has been hard.
Hernandez describes her mother as “a little angel sent for me. I mean, on the days that I’m feeling really rough and there are days that I’m super stressed — whether it's school, gymnastics, anything. She’s always there; she’s always grounding me.”
Like most parents, Mrs. Hernandez loves her children and has allowed Christ to be the center of the foundation she imparts to her kids. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, Wanda was surrounded by gangs, drugs and violence, but an old man in the neighborhood saw the importance of outreach and offered to take her and other kids in the neighborhood to and from church. Not only did he play a role in shaping her faith, but Wanda’s mother also influenced her with her phenomenal faith. Wanda still vividly remembers her mother on her deathbed and her words when she said that she had cancer, but Wanda didn’t have to worry about her — she was going to be with the savior. Instead, her mother encouraged, worry about those who aren’t saved. Even as she took her last breath, she encouraged Wanda and others to add to the kingdom of God. With this foundation, Wanda grew up and passed this same faith to her kids.
Laurie describes her mother's morning text and advice.
“She’ll send me Bible verses in the morning — she always does — she’s always reminding me not to forget to pray: ‘I hope you remember to pray before you start anything. If you don’t start your day off with God, then why are you doing anything today?’”
It’s easy to become caught up in wanting your child to be the best, but Mrs. Hernandez understands the importance for Laurie to not allow gymnastics to be the only thing that defines her.
“It’s not about the medals; it's about the process,” she says.
“I constantly listen to her and help her understand it's all about God. When we are not there with you, who are you trusting? If He is taking care of the birds and flowers, He can take care of you.”
While competing in Italy, Hernandez received a note that may have been small, but its impact was big.
“I remember I went to buy water, and I pulled out my wallet and I didn’t realize in the money she gave me for Italy it had a little note written in it. I remember pulling it out [and wondering], 'What is this? It's a note.’ It read: As you start your journey, remember to pray, read your Bible and trust in God more than anything in this world. Take the time to meditate, breathe and help others. Remember you can do everything through Christ who strengthens you. Pray more and worry less. Love you, Mom.”
Laurie can attest to the impact a parent can have with a Bible verse, encouraging words or smile and a little note from an angel.
Parents, what little thing can you do this week for your athletes to encourage them as they face the daily pressures of performance?
Tips on parenting an athlete from Wanda Hernandez
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