The Summer Olympics televised from Rio de Janeiro , Brazil over the past few weeks have captivated Milford residents as the world’s greatest athletes compete for medals in a wide variety of summer sports. In some cases, the games may inspire local youth who are involved in sports to see a future for themselves as Olympic athletes.
“We offer several different programs that could lead to the Olympics,” said Mary Betts of Milford Parks and Recreation. “Gymnastics, swimming, field hockey, basketball, soccer, wrestling and tennis are all Olympic sports. The first step is to register children for beginner programs in the sport they enjoy. If they show talent, they can pursue higher levels of competition.” Ms. Betts said that many of the sports offered through Milford Parks & Recreation may be pursued at higher level throughout Kent and Sussex County.
Ms. Betts said that if children watching the Olympic games express an interest in sports they are watching, it is important for parents to explain the dedication that is involved in reaching that level of competition. She said that the number one trait found in Olympic athletes is dedication. Ms. Betts said that she reached the Junior National level in Swimming and held several state records in Nevada where she grew up. She then went on to Virginia Commonwealth University on a swimming scholarship and was captain of the team in her junior and senior year of college. Ms. Betts said that many Milford students have progressed in their sport to earning colleges scholarships and playing at the college level.
Ryan Winkleblech, Athletic Director at Milford School District, agrees. “Being an Olympic athlete requires significant commitment,” Mr. Winkleblech said. “It is a huge sacrifice. I’ve heard of Olympians missing holidays, family events and personal activities because they have to train. It becomes a job for the athlete, but it can also be very hard on parents who must also give up time for training.”
Mr. Winkleblech said that, although he has never tried out to be an Olympian, he competed in sports at the college level. He said even at that level it can be difficult as an athlete must balance practice with school requirements. If local youth want to work toward Olympian dreams, he said there are many programs available through the school district. Swimming, volleyball, wrestling and field hockey are all sports in the Olympics, along with more commonly known sports like basketball, soccer, track and field. Even sports like kayaking are available in the area, although there is not a competitive team through the district.
“In my opinion, when you compete locally, you are competing in the Olympics on a smaller scale,” Mr. Winkleblech said. “Athletes at the Olympics are representing their country, just as an athlete competing for Milford is representing our community, our school and themselves. When Michael Phelps competes, when he is standing on a podium, he is representing the United States. That is the attitude I want our athletes to have, that when they are standing on a podium or on a football field or attending a swim meet, that they are representing Milford. I want them to have the sense of community and pride that the Olympics expresses for the United States.”
In addition to making sure children understand the hard work and dedication it takes to be an Olympic athlete, it is important for parents to understand the difficulty involved as well. Mr. Winkelblech said there is a fine line between supporting a child and pushing them to the point of burnout. Parents need to push children to do their best at any sport, but also understand when a child has reached their limit when it comes to a sport.