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Olympic Cyclist Erin Mirabella: Sports Provide Building Blocks For Future Success

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Being the mother of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. At momsTEAM we think sports moms deserve to be honored, not just on the second Sunday in May, but for an entire month. So we have designated May as National Sports Moms Month and invited some veteran sports moms to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions. We will post a new blog for every day of May, which we hope you will find interesting, empowering, and informative, and that you will share them with your family and friends. 

Today we hear from Erin Mirabella, a two-time Olympic track cyclist, stay-at-home mom of three, children's book author and momsTEAM blogger and writer. 

momsTEAM: Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)? 

Mirabella: I tried a lot of sports as a kid. When I was very young I did gymnastics and soccer. As I got older, I did swimming, sailing and cycling. Cycling, which later became my career, was something I did with my parents for fun; I started racing my bike when I was nine.

momsTEAM: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports mom?

Mirabella: The most rewarding aspect of being a sports mom is watching my children's face light up with pride and satisfaction when they do something for the first time. Erin Mirabella playing in the pool with her three kids

I also love knowing that playing sports is giving them the building blocks for success in all aspects of their life. They are learning to deal with success and failure, competition and fears. They are also developing their self-confidence, social skills, and work ethic.

momsTEAM: What lesson has your sports active child taught you?

Mirabella: My son is four and my daughter is three. I learn from them every day, but recently they taught me to back off and just let them be kids. Both kids have been taking private swim lessons. I have never been more impressed with a program; my kids have become little fish and they absolutely love it. They will swim to exhaustion, kind of like a puppy that plays fetch until he flops over, too tired to move.

The kids don't just play in the pool, they spend hours swimming back and fourth between an adult and the wall. But whenever I encouraged them to practice a skill that they were doing in class, I got resistance, especially if it was a challenging skill for them. The more I encouraged them, or pestered them to try it or show Grandma and Grandpa what they learned in class, the less likely they were to do it.

On more than one occasion, after resisting my request to practice or show off, they started incorporating into their pool play, on their own and unprompted, exactly what I had been asking them to do! My husband I watched in amazement as my four-year-old decided to practice his front crawl side-breathing all by himself.  He didn't ask us to watch or look for any support; he just did it.  Of course, we made a huge deal about it, at which point he then proceeded to practice swimming across the pool by himself three or four more times. Erin Mirabella racing on cycling track at Olympics

I thought by gently encouraging them I could get them to practice a little, but I learned that, given time, they'll practice all by themselves, and, when it is their own idea, they'll practice a lot and thoroughly enjoy themselves.

momsTEAM: What is the most important lesson your child is learning from his/her sport?

Mirabella: My son Micah is very competitive. Playing sports is teaching him how to be a good sport and gracefully handle winning and losing, or at least as gracefully as is possible for a four-year-old. I noticed both how competitive he was and how hard it was for him to lose when we played board games, but the problem really came to a head at preschool.  His class played the magic scrap game when they cleaned up; whoever found the magic scrap in the process of cleaning up won a prize.  The first time they played Micah didn't win and he was devastated; he had a complete and total meltdown. He told me later, "I really wanted to win."  We tried to explain that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I tried to tell him how to constructively deal with losing; to assess why he lost and what he could have done better, and then practice and come up with a plan on how he can improve his performance for next time.  But, most importantly, we emphasized the need to be a good sport whether he won or lost.  We read my book, Shawn Sheep Soccer Star to help illustrate it for him.

It was clear that no matter how much we talked about it, it was going to be hard for him. He was so afraid to lose that he didn't want to play anymore. The next time they played the magic scrap game at school, he actually chose not to play because he was afraid he wouldn't win. I spent the next several months doing the opposite of what parents generally do; I tried to beat him at board games and any other games we played. I would still occasionally make sure he won, but most of time I made sure he lost. 

Playing games at home with your mom is one thing, but sports gave him another more public forum in which to practice winning and losing. It took awhile, and we had a few five-star meltdowns along the way, but now he handles himself quite well.  Last week when I picked him up from pre-school he told me one of his little friends won the magic scrap game, and he was genuinely happy for her.  I am so happy he has learned this lesson as a four-year-old, instead of later in life. Just the other day I asked him if he wanted to sign up to do a one-mile run with his dad. He got really excited and then said, " And it doesn't matter if I don't win."  I was really proud of him!

Erin MirabellaErin Mirabella is a stay-at-home mother of three pre-schoolers living in Boulder, Colorado. She represented the United States at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games in track cycling and later used her experiences to write two children's books, Shawn Sheep The Soccer Star and Gracie Goat's Big Bike Race. For more information visit Erin's website.

For more blogs in momsTEAM's May is Sports Moms Month series, click here.