The Invaluable Support of Family for Athletes
By Margaret Thompson

In my past columns I have featured many of the people who have helped me achieve my stellar season.  This array of professionals, ranging from my sports medicine physician to my acupuncturist, has helped me through thick and thin.  But years before I sought the expertise of these fine folks I was blessed to have the best kind of support there is – that of my family.

As every competitive athlete and his or her family knows, training and competing take time and energy, often at the expense of spending that time in more “conventional” ways.  I’ve talked with so many people at races that have spent the season juggling their schedules to accommodate all kinds of family situations.  Demands on their time seem staggering, but the fact that they have made it to that race despite the odds tells me that deep down they have the support and encouragement of their loved ones.

This support system develops with the athlete.  When I first started riding and racing I would train in the early morning before my family rose for work and school.  When we traveled to our camp on summer weekends I would ride my bike while my husband drove the girls, their pet rabbit, and our portable necessities to the lake.  I got in my ride and had the rest of the day to be Mom. 

As a coach, I often counsel my clients on how to blend training into a busy family life.  Sometimes it involves training at home with shorter indoor sessions.  Presence is a powerful tool.  I encourage clients who travel for work to make use of the gym facilities available at their hotels in order to train as possible while they are away, freeing time for family when they arrive back  home. 

I’ve seen how this consideration pays off in wonderful dividends.  One of my clients recently rode his first organized century ride.  Even though this event was fully supported with rest stops, his seventeen year old daughter drove the family’s car along the entire route with an abundance of extras for him if he needed it.  Now that is family support!  When I asked her how she passed the extra time she replied that she brought her homework along, including Edgar Allen Poe.  Most importantly, her smiling face said so much – that she was so happy to be there for her Dad.

Encouraging family to become involved in your sport as competitors is also great, just remember to coach everyone at his or her level – not your own.   Remember too to keep things fun, not an obligation.  My daughter was a promising cyclist as a teenager, but if she did not want to join me to train or compete then she got to stay home.  The huge benefit of this light-handed approach is that ten years later she is still racing her bicycles, winning three Collegiate National Championships along the way.  She and I are each other’s biggest fans, and the support that we have been able to give each other has been a blessing.  Even though we’ve lived 2000 miles apart for several years we’ve managed to give each other heartfelt encouragement before every one of our biggest competitions.

Family support, then, is a two way street, requiring understanding by both sides to ease the flow of traffic.  My experience has shown that compromising is well worth the effort.  My family’s unfailing support and enthusiasm for my racing has acted as the springboard toward the racing career I have today, and I encourage every athlete to work toward creating this environment.