Dutiful Dads and Dynamo Daughters
girl swimmingBy SCOTT AVERY

This afternoon, I was throwing the softball back and forwards with my two girls. “Put your arm behind your head, bend your wrist, and throwwwww…”

They had swimming. Friday is dancing followed by gymnastics. I’m also hoping my girls will pick up my hint and have another crack at nippers when it starts up again in a few months- if for no other reason than dad loves hanging out at the beach on Sunday morning.

Following the sporting life of your kids can make your head spin. There are so many choices around, you hope they have fun and maybe pick up the basic skills of a few sports early. But how do you encourage them with out pushing them and is it a bad thing to introduce them too many activities early on?

I thought I’d ask two dads who know first hand what its like to watch their daughters rise to sporting excellence. Michael Croak and Don Rechichi are dads to two Australian Olympians who have just returned from a successful campaign in Beijing.

Michael’s daughter Alex competed at Beijing in the 10 metre springboard diving. Having also represented Australia in gymnastics at the Sydney 2000 games, Alex wears the remarkable badge of being an Olympian in two sports. “Alex could have been a star at swimming or running, but gymnastics is what she went for at a very young age”, says Michael. “We have three daughters and a son who all have a go at things, so there has always been a fair bit of running around. Although I have to say their mum did most of that. My role was more about being there in the background”. Despite his youngest daughter’s impressive achievements, Michael talks with equal admiration about all his children, not playing favourites.

Alex’s Olympic preparation stared early, and by the tender age of 10 she was in residence at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. This took her away from her family, and Michael took three months long service leave to help her settle in. “It was just Alex and I down there at the start, so we had time together and I could just watch her train. Then when I came back home, Alex would ring me when things were tough so we could talk things through”. Eventually injuries saw Alex switch from gymnastics to the dizzy heights of the 10 metre platform. “You could say I was the philosopher!” says Michael of his role as support coach to Alex’s sporting career. And what was Michael’s philosophy? “You’re doing your best, just keep doing it.” A typical Aussie approach.

Alex is now going great guns balancing her competition whilst studying Occupational Therapy at the University of Sydney. Michael was at Beijing when he watched Alex dive for Australia. As he speaks, a dads pride clearly shines through. “You couldn’t wish for a better daughter”, he says.

Meanwhile on the other side of the country, Don Rechichi is still popping the champagne after his daughter Elise brought home a gold medal with Tessa Parkinson in the 470 class sailing event.

Elsie showed her talent and love for sailing at a young age, taking to the sport at the age of 7. “We were always around boats, and I did some sailing at club level. My sons are outstanding sailors as well,” Don explains. “We encouraged all of our children to have a go at all sports, but Elise came out and said that she really wanted to have a go at sailing. My wife and I thought she was a bit young at the time, but she was so determined. Within a few competitions she was leading the fleet, and there was no holding her back”.

As Elise’s competitive spirit nurtured, Don and his wife Julie found that their challenge was not the need to motivate and inspire, but to maintain balance and perspective. Elise felt that nothing was too hard for her. Don tells a story of a 12 year old Elise wanting to compete in a major regatta in Japan. “She told us competing there would be just like catching a bus down the road. We stunned that she could think so big so young, but nothing fazed her.”

It was around this age that Elise decided that her goal was to win an Olympic gold. “We told Elise that if that is what she wanted to do, she should go for it and we will be we are 100% behind her. At the same time, our role as parents was to be pragmatic and look out for her welfare, so we cautioned against having such an incredibly high goal and the consequences of maybe not achieving it. In a way, we were fortunate that it all came together for her”.

With an Olympic gold medal in the bag, the next challenge for Don is in trying to convince Elise to have a good rest in order to recover from her injuries and relax after such intense competition. Although he concedes, on past experience, it will involve more subtle guiding than pushing her.

The next throw from my daughter goes way to the left and the ball rolls half way down the street. “Follow through straight with your arm and watch where your feet land,” I say with authority, despite not having any particular expertise in art of throwing. I throw the ball back to my daughter. “You’re doing your best, just keep doing it” I yell across the yard. The next throw goes straight in the middle of the mit.

So, for now the sport of choice for my daughters it is their T-ball. My hope is that they find a sport they love and enjoy participating in, and whatever they decide to do, good ol’ dad will be there behind them with his pride shining through.