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Joys and complications in athletic families

Sharon, Sean and Chelsea  Mackinnon
Kevin, Sean and Chelsea Mackinnon

As a parent with kids playing sports, you probably spend a lot of your time at the field, arena, track, or on the course supporting your kids. My parents are no different, spending hours driving my brothers and I to our games, practices and races. My brothers and I were introduced to sports before we could even play them ourselves. My dad is a very talented runner, a former national cross-country champion and now a top masters competitor. This meant that I spent a lot of my childhood on the racecourse cheering my dad on and getting pushed around in the baby joggers. I was born into a family with an active lifestyle was instilled into our family values.

I have a very positive experience with  growing up with competitive athletes as parents. They let me try different sports and helped make sure I was able to stick with the ones I loved to play. As I got older I got more into running and racing, as did my older brother, so we connected with our parents through a shared love of sport. Coach Kevin Mackinnon sees the competitive parent as a great resource for athletic kids. “For the most part, I find that former elite athletes have a healthy perspective when it comes to their kids. They have lived through an athletic career, so aren’t trying to live vicariously through their kids. They also are fully aware of what it takes to be successful – talent is one thing, but there’s a lot of drive and determination that goes into succeeding as an athlete. That can only come from the kids themselves. A parent’s responsibility is to create a supportive environment for an athlete to succeed and to provide the opportunities for their children.”

Mackinnon is an accomplished triathlete (and former pro) turned coach, and has coached  young athletes for almost 25 years. He explains, “My goal as a coach, when I am working with younger kids, is to make sure I get them to the age of 16 with all their options ahead of them.” This is a philosophy that he applies when coaching his own kids. His son Sean has been on the national cycling team for the last few years. He will be representing Canada this summer at the Pan Am Games in the team pursuit, road race and time trial. Sean’s younger brother Ian, is one of one of Ontario’s top junior triathletes but is also on the national youth swim team and is gearing up for the Olympic Trials in swimming next year.

Without this foresight, however, the competitive parent can end up putting pressure on their kids to excel. It is not uncommon for a young athlete to feel a constant comparison to their parent which could lead to mental and physical burnout. The pressure (even if it is self-imposed) can lead to loss of enjoyment and also put athletes at a higher risk of injury. Furthermore, highly competitive parents can at times be overly critical of their kid’s performance. One of the biggest reasons for burnout in kids is when they do too much to soon. Parents should be realistic in setting training goals kids and be patient with their children’s development.Kids love to win and parents love to watch their kids win, but if you want kids to be in it for the long run, it’s also important to build character. Sometimes losing can teach an athlete a lot more than winning. It is important for kids not to be excessively results-based.

Having highly successful athletes as parents can have its tough moments, but it can also mean an incredibly supportive environment that allows kids to grow and develop as athletes while maintaining their love and passion for the sport. As Mackinnon says, “A parent’s main goal should be to have their kids find something they can be passionate about that allows them to succeed in life.”

Sean Mackinnon tearing up the track.
Sean Mackinnon tearing up the track.