Before Lydia de Vega was named the fastest woman in Asia, or boxer Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco won silver in the 1996 Summer Olympics, or weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history as the first Filipina to win an Olympic medal, they were merely kids who loved to run and play. But something remarkable happened on their way to victory, and we'd like to think that, besides their training, how they were raised by their parents had a great impact on their success.
At the recently-held Alaska IronKids Triathlon held at the Shangri-la Hotel in Mactan, Cebu, we sat down with Caroline Borlain and her three daughters, 14-year-old Samantha (2016 Alaska IronKids - Subic second placer for 13-14 years old, female category), 13-year-old Tara, who finished first in the same category as Samantha, and Franchezka, 8, who won second place in the same tournament for the 6-8 year old category.
We also caught up with Erwin Ekong and his wife Maru Rodriguez Ekong, whose son, 6-year-old Ilan Eirik is joining the triathlon for the first time.
So what does it take to raise children who truly excel in sports? They gave us these tips:
1.Channel their boundless energy into something productive. When Caroline’s two older daughters Samantha and Tara were just toddlers, she says they were so active that they often had “disasters” at home resulting to curtain rods falling, things getting ripped, etc. Her husband, fitness coach and former bodybuilder Ringo came up with a brilliant solution: “He said, instead of us coming home and getting angry, why don’t we channel [this energy] into sports? So we decided, first, running lang, it seemed easy. You buy [them] a pair of shoes and we just bring them along when we run,” Caroline says.
2.Do it for fun. Maru and Erwin didn’t mention the word ‘competition’ to their son Ilan when they encouraged him to take up swimming. “Even the coaches saw that he was a natural, so they would ask, ‘Why don’t you ask him to compete?’”, recounts Erwin. “But he didn’t know what the word ‘compete’ means. Even if he finished first or second, he was fine with that, as long as he had a medal.” For the Alaska IronKids Triathlon, Maru says Ilan was a bit nervous, seeing that the track was more challenging. “He goes back and forth. Sometimes, he’s like ‘I can do this’, or, like yesterday, he said ‘I need more training!’. But we tell him, it doesn’t matter, you just enjoy it. When you reach the finish line, we’ll be there.”
3.Be someone they can look up to. Besides being the directress of the Southdale Integrated School in Dumaguete, Maru is also a triathlete herself and a tae kwon do blackbelter. Growing up, Ilan would always see his parents taking up some form of sport, so he became naturally curious about sports, too. Says Maru, “Whenever he would see me leave, he would ask me ‘Are you going to swim, bike or run today?’.”
4.Build up their confidence. When Tara was 6, she excelled in running but didn’t like swimming. “Because of her built, she would get cold in the water easily. Her lips would turn grey when she’s swimming," says Caroline. But, a week before registration for a competition closed a few years back, Tara asked her dad if she can also join it like her older sister Sam. "Sabi ni dad nya, ‘but you couldn’t swim’. Sabi nya, ‘but I want to join’. So my husband and I talked, we agreed that since the enthusiasm is there, the passion is there, let’s not kill it.
"He made a deal with her. Sabi nya kay Tara, I’ll bring you to the ULTRA [now Philsports Arena] in Pasig right now -- pasarado na sila noon ng 4 pm -- and if you cross that 50-meter distance in the pool, I’ll register you. She agreed. We went there, but as Tara went into the water, biglang kumidlat, so everyone had to leave [the pool, to avoid accidents],” recounts Caroline. However, because of her determination, her parents registered her to the competition, and she ended up winning the triathlon.
Tara also took the grand prize at the said Alaska IronKids Triathlon in Cebu, finishing her swim-bike-run routine at 46 minutes and 31 seconds, followed closely by her sister Samantha just 26 seconds later.
5.Guide their priorities. With all the training one has to go through, it is so easy to take school for granted, but these parents realize that on the contrary, being involved in sports has made their children better at managing their time. Says Caroline, “I told my daughters, you have to maintain good grades or else we stop this. It was a deal breaker. So, during breaks from their training, they do their assignments. When they need help, they call me at work.” For Maru, “Of course, Ilan’s priority is schooling, and then he actually has time for tutors and training. In between, he likes to take a short nap.”
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6.Trust your coach. As parents, it is so tempting to give in to the urge of being the mom or dad -- the one who knows it all -- during training, but Maru is cautious not to do this. “I think it’s really important to not interfere. Even if I also do sports, I don’t get in the way. I just let my child be and trust the coach. That’s why we have to have a good relationship with the coach also.”
7.Teach them to win – or lose – gracefully. In competitions, there are always winners and losers, so it’s crucial for kids to know how to take the outcome, whatever it may be. “For a 6-year-old, Ilan has a very different outlook in life. He knows his priorities and he knows not to take it too hard. He knows that while he can do it, it’s okay to fail, or not to be the best at everything, but [he knows he should] do the best that he can do,” says Erwin.
Adds Maru, “Support and guidance are very important. If you see that your child can do it, and wants to do it, it doesn’t matter if they excel or not. Support with love and patience, don’t stress the kid out and don’t demand too much. Also praise them, for whatever they are able to achieve. And believe in them; believe that they can do it.”