On September 22nd at the XTERRA Harbins Park Trail Run in Georgia, Tom and Maria Comsudes became very clear how talented their children really are. While 9-year old Sam and 12-year old Gabi have been competing in track and cross-country meets with their peers, watching them beat most of the adults at XTERRA Harbins Park was something of an eye-opener.
Of course, like many parents, the Comsudes want to encourage their children to do their best, but they don’t want to push too hard and risk burnout or injury.
Maria Comsudes, who is a trained counselor, shares some of the strategies her family uses to keep off-road sports fun and allow young athletes to shine.
Have an Attitude of Gratitide
The Comsudes look at running as a gift. They are grateful for their health, their local trails, and the friends they run with.
“I don’t want my kids to get their identities wrapped around having to perform or just think of themselves as a runner,” says Maria. “No way. That’s too limited. Tom and I have tried to figure out what my kids like and we are encouraging them to view their skills as gifts. If there is something they are good at, they can use that gift to explore what it means to be alive.”
Maria says that when we discover that we have a talent, it can bring us joy. And when we focus on the joy we get, it takes the pressure off.
In Lesley Paterson’s book, The Brave Athlete, she writes about her experience after winning the XTERRA World Championship in 2011. She felt a lot of pressure to repeat the win, and the expectation took the fun out of the sport.
Once Paterson was able to let go of her own judgement and expectation, her approach became one of gratitude and self-discovery.
“After I found ‘the why,’ I could come back and win the XTERRA World Championship again in 2012. Rather than think about what everyone expected, I focused on how grateful I was for being able to have the life I had. As a result, 2012 was a much more joyous experience.”
Earn Your Kids’ Trust
Maria encourages parents to refrain from pushing too hard, yelling instructions, or signing their children up for events they aren’t ready for. When kids know that adults have their backs, they feel safe, which leads to open and honest communication.
“We run with our kids’ running club, even though we can’t keep up with them any more,” says Maria. “If they have a workout and are running 90 percent, we run 90 percent too.”
Her son Sam is nervous about an upcoming race, so Maria is going to join him to provide some comfort and support.
“I’m going to do it even though I’m not fit. It might be humiliating, but I’m an adult and I can handle it.”
She adds that as a runner or triathlete, there is no place to hide in a race; if your kids are having a bad day, it’s pretty obvious. If parents are always a safe haven, children will have more freedom to take risks and make mistakes – which makes us better athletes and people in the long run.
Meet Your Kids Where They Are
Sam and Gabi have very different personalities. Sam is very physical and grounded, while Gabi is more cerebral and logical.
“The same things that work for Sam won’t work for Gabi,” says Maria. “Before a race, Sam benefits from silliness. We hold hands because that’s comfortable for him. He’s always touching and tackling people.”
Gabi, on the other hand, is creative and sometimes prone to worry.
“Gabi doesn’t want to hold my hand when she’s stressed. She does better with her gratitude journal so she can focus her attention on things that already feel good. When she can use her creativity to calm herself down, it puts her well-being back in the driver’s seat.”
Learning how to handle stress in a positive manner is an important life skill. When we communicate with our children in ways that they understand, we increase their ability to be successful.
Surround Yourself With Positive Role Models
The Comsudes below to a family-oriented running group. Maria says that spending time with others who share the same values can be benefit your children and provide new friends and role models. When you surround yourself with positive people, happiness becomes contagious.
At a Dirty Spokes night run last weekend, Sam Comsudes got to meet XTERRA Regional Champ Matt Haley, who he admires and respects.
“The running group we belong to is like a family and that was the sense I got with XTERRA,” says Maria, of their first XTERRA race. “Everyone at the race welcomed our family in a very kind way. It was like we were all in it together which was so wonderful.”
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