Today is the birthday of Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders (born October 13, 1972, in Roseville, California). Her swimming accomplishments include four Olympic medals (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) from the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. During her collegiate career at Stanford University, she also earned six individual NCAA titles and four relay championships, plus NCAA Swimmer of the Year honors.
Life has certainly changed for Summer Sanders, the famous butterfly and individual medley specialist, since her book CHAMPIONS ARE RAISED, NOT BORN: HOW MY PARENTS MADE ME A SUCCESS was published sixteen years ago. Today, she is a successful television reporter/host plus health advocate and married to another Olympian, skier Erik Schlopy, and a mother of two children. And today, sixteen years later, the message of her book is still relevant.
I re-read CHAMPIONS ARE RAISED, NOT BORN and I highly recommend it for athletes who will undoubtedly recognize themselves in Summer, plus coaches and parents sure to learn from Sanders’ no-nonsense parents who (despite being divorced) were able to cultivate positive experiences for their children in and out of the pool.
It’s refreshing to read about parents who understood life should not revolve around the sport, but rather the experiences that help a child to develop lifelong skills. Whether kids are in pee-wee sports or college-bound seniors, it’s common for parents to wonder when to push or pull back. How do you fuel motivation instead of snuff it out? From the early years to post-Olympic fanfare, Sanders traces her success to her parent’s sage guidance. In addition, she interviews Olympic friends that include Bonnie Blair (speedskating) and Dot Richardson (softball) who share similar parenting experiences.
The chapter “The Third Parent: What Makes a Coach Great” should be required reading for coaches of any sport. As she aptly sums up, “If the relationship isn’t a positive one, nothing positive can ultimately come from it.” For athletes who reach a successful pinnacle and get stumped over, what’s next? The last two chapters explore handling success and finding triumph in what some may call defeat.
I originally bought this book because I’m a fan and my first sport was swimming. While re-reading it I recognized my own parent’s philosophy of prioritizing academics and balancing sports. I couldn’t help but smile. That’s probably why today, at age 53, I still enjoy swimming laps and cheerfully compete in a variety of sports. I always jot down notes or quotes (usually on a sticky pad) and there were plenty for this book, but I’ll share these six quotes on parenting a champion:
“Their joyful support freed me up emotionally to take risks, to not fear failure.”
“Their insistence on personal accountability made me see myself, and myself alone, responsible for the course my swimming took – how high I reached or how hard I fell.”
“What the medals reflect back to me are the countless moments of pure joy along the way. Ultimately, the medals are really just metal.”
“She knew how to walk the line between being reassuring and being too involved.”
“Our parents were interested in sport as a character-forming experience, not as an index of self-worth.”
“It’s not the parents’ job to edit or censor what events come a child’s way; rather, it’s the parents’ job to teach, by example, how to handle whatever pitch life throws, especially the curveballs.”
For more information on this book and Summer Sanders:
Summer is also one of the hosts for: We Need to Talk: An All-Female Sports Show