Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham
Sam Darnold’s parents are not the typical parents of a star athlete. For those unfamiliar with Sam, he debuted with the New York Jets as the youngest ever starting quarterback at age 21—winning their first game of the season by more than 30 points. As a star quarterback from USC, Darnold was the NFL Draft’s 3rd pick. What did Mike and Chris Darnold do that is different than many other sports parents?
They raised Sam in Southern California in the midst of overly involved parents who will do anything to help their children succeed. In contrast to many of their peers, they didn’t pay for private lessons, coaching, or the best equipment. They let their phenom athletically-gifted kid, be just that. A kid. He tried numerous sports and they didn’t pressure him to specialize. In fact, he could have been recruited to a D1 school in basketball or football. They let him decide. Although they knew their child was extraordinarily talented, they didn’t make it the center of their lives. Darnold comes across as humble and well-grounded. There’s no trace of arrogance or ego.
Perhaps it was the family’s athletic background that taught them their hands-off philosophy. Mike, Sam’s dad, was an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands. Dick Hammer, Sam’s grandfather, played basketball at USC, was a member of the 1964 US Olympic Volleyball team, and was a Marlboro Man. Other volleyball players in the Darnold family include Sam’s mom Chris, sister Franki and three cousins. Although a naturally gifted athlete like Sam is not the norm, we can learn so much from his parents—regardless of the talent our kids have, or what their passions are.
Here are five things we can learn as swim parents from Sam Darnold’s parents:
Let your child choose their sport.
As much as we may want our kids to swim, they are the ones who have to be invested. Expose them to different opportunities and let them find their passion—just like Sam’s parents did with him.
Don’t make them specialize until they want to.
Our children may show talent in one sport over another, but we need to follow their lead on when they want to focus on one sport. Several coaches have said that Darnold’s incredible athletic ability comes from playing other sports in addition to football. The skills learned in different sports can increase athletic ability and will transfer from one sport to another.
Let them have fun.
If they aren’t having fun, they won’t stay with their sport. By eliminating parental pressure, but enjoying watching him play, Sam’s parents allowed him to have fun well into high school. He didn’t burn out and had an amazing collegiate career and start at the NFL.
Follow their lead.
If our kids are passionate about swimming and want to go all in, then by all means follow them. We can offer support in many ways to help them. On the other hand, if they are just so-so interested, we shouldn’t show more enthusiasm than they do. Otherwise, we may drive them away.
Stay true to your family’s values.
We can’t worry about how much time and money other parents are pouring into their children’s sports. Some families believe in early age sports specialization, but if you believe in allowing kids to play whatever sport interest them, then stick to your beliefs. If you believe private lessons will benefit your child, and your child is interested, then schedule them. The point is to do what you feel is best for your family and not worry about what other people think.
What are your thoughts about what we can learn from Sam Darnold’s parents?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.