Published in The Messenger, February 15, 2019
The town of Norwich, Vermont, is unlike many towns in our country. Their record of producing Olympic athletes is remarkable, considering its population of only 3,000 people. Norwich has generated an athlete in each Winter Olympics since 1984 except for one. Those Olympians have combined for three medals.
But the town, nestled along the border of Vermont and New Hampshire near Dartmouth College, has not achieved their athletic prowess by raising their young people in a cutthroat, everyone-for-themselves, sports environment like other communities.
In her 2018 book Norwich, Karen Crouse shares how Norwich rears its young people in a way that appreciates the nature of the Northeast while connecting the residents, especially their youth, with each other and fostering them into happy adults.
What makes the town truly unique is how it collectively rears its young athletes to success without burning them out or compromising future happiness. Parents of young Norwich athletes have learned that the most effective way to be a “sports parent” is to value participation, sportsmanship, fun, community, and self-improvement.
It was noted that many of these young athletes did not get into their sport and compete at the highest international level to get rich, but instead, to enrich their own lives. Three-time Olympian and Norwich-native Hannah Kearney is a case study in how an athlete should be raised and supported by her community and parents. A highly-competitive athlete, Crouse explains that rather that nurturing her competitive obsession, Norwich helps take the pressure off Kearney.
In a town known for its winter sports successes, one would assume Kearney spent her youth in isolation on ski slopes during the cold-weather while training in Olympic training facilities during the summer. Wrong. Kearney craved balance in her life. She rode horses, ran track, and was an all-state soccer player in high school. Track and soccer provided outlets to any pressure the success of her skiing provided.
One may also think that Kearney came from an affluent family that flew her all over the country competing in national skiing events in the hopes that her skiing success would result in their own family success. Others may think the family took out a second mortgage so she could achieve international success traveling the world. Wrong.
Kearney’s parents informed her that if she wanted to fly across the country to compete she would have to find her own sponsors. She found a sponsor, a relative of a Norwich resident, one who said he would support her if her report card grades continued to maintain excellence. Her mother, Jill, still remains director of the Norwich recreation program.
As a favorite to win gold in her first Olympics in 2006, she fell out of the top twenty and failed to make the finals. The town still threw her a parade. And in turn, Kearney pays it forward. She has donated earnings to the Norwich Public Library and supports the less affluent in the town.
As an educator and parent, a phrase I often hear, and have said a time or two myself is, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Parents are the primary educators of their children, but it does take many people in their lives to enrich them and guide them in becoming fit and emotionally-stable adults. Coaches. Teachers. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Parents of friends. Neighbors. All of these influential people can model and mold the young people around them. Norwich seems to have figured this out.
Karen Crouse’s account of Norwich’s Olympic success provides us with some great, though basic, lessons on how our own “village” can support youth athletes:
- Encourage our young people’s passions. – Avoid making our own passions theirs.
- Support them win or lose. – Don’t allow the result of competition define who our young people are.
- Refrain from micromanaging your own children’s lives – As Crouse says, “act as their guides to charity, well-roundedness, curiosity, perspective, and a healthy life.”
- Support and encourage the opponents of your own children. – As I say in Play Like A Champion parent workshops, those opponents could one day be your child’s classmate, teammate, best friend or work colleague.
Our Church is the body of Christ. All of the parts of our Church, when working together, make for a strong, healthy body, mind and spirit. Our sports programs are one of those body parts. When it is working to bring the greater good to the Church, our local Church community and individuals within them thrive in order to become the good people God created them to be.
Norwich, Vermont, is not our model to create Olympic athletes. It is our model to raise our young people who God created them to be.
This article may also be found in the February 15, 2019 issue of The Messenger.