‘Mind more important than talent’

Yuan, IronKids first place

Sport is physical. In basketball, you pass, dribble and alley-hoop. In badminton, you lob, smash, serve. Running involves jumping forward, left leg after right leg, repeated 1,111 times. In gymnastics, it’s a different set of twisting: arms bent backwards as the neck curls and legs spread into a split.

Sport = Muscles. But when I asked proud mom to triathletes Justin and Yuan Chiongbian for the most important attribute in an athlete, her reply surprised me: “Mental strength is, for me, the most important trait of an athlete. Talent is only 2nd.”

Wow. This wasn’t the first time I heard this quotation from Millette, who is the only Cebuana to join the Boston Marathon, finishing the world’s most prestigious footrace in 2011. “The marathon is 90 percent mental,” said Millette, in a speech a few years back.

Justin Chiongbian (from Facebook)

Via email, I interviewed Millette. Her boys, Justin and Yuan, having competed in one of the world’s fastest growing sports — triathlon — only last March, have won their respective age-groups. They’ll compete in Singapore next weekend.

How important are the parents? I asked the wife of Frederic Chiongbian. How do you motivate your kids?

Millette’s answer: “Justin and Yuan have become aware of our active lifestyle since they were tots. This parental and environmental influence to train, compete and the love of sports is the foundation.

“An invitation to a Tri clinic in Plantation Bay Resort and the recruit by TRAP brought on to these boys the competitiveness and the more serious matters to their attention. I saw no reason not to support this because of their expressed commitment.

“Since both train together, each other’s presence and performance is each other’s stimulus and motivating factor. Both are intrinsically motivated.

“Rewards and prizes are not emphasized to catalyze them to attain goals. Rather, the small increments of success in the track, pool or race splits is what motivates both the most. ‘Only the fastest wins!’ is a favorite phrase for both.”

The aforementioned lines are important. They reveal several lessons. One, if the parents are active and competitive… then, possibly, so will the children. Two, “sibling harmony” instead of “sibling rivalry.”

Aged 13 (Justin) and 11 (Yuan), it’s good that they’re two years apart — which means they don’t compete against each other. They practice together, pushing each other to swim, bike, run faster.

And, the words I relish best… “rewards and prizes are not emphasized… to attain goals.” Dear parents: This is essential.

TIPS. I asked Millette for parenting tips. She offered plenty…

ON TRAINING: A. Be consistent & regular on training schedules afforded and allowed. Journal in the progress of your athlete. (So if one’s sked can warrant a 4x weekly swim, 3x weekly run and bike then these should be done week per week).

B. Be sensitive to the mental, psychological & emotional demands of the athlete. (If your athlete often cries when training, openly talk about it and get to the root of his emotions. Mental strength is for me the most important trait of an athlete, talent is only 2nd).

C. Carefully study and consider the demands of the race event the athlete will be competing in. If your athlete is a newbie in the sport, joining smaller but well-organized events gives your athlete a positive experience. On the other hand, too big an event can overwhelm your athlete–getting lost and getting confused with signs on the course and changing kits rules may leave your athlete undesirous to join another race.

D. Suggest to help manage the student-athlete’s time. One has to understand the downtime of the sport. Training hard can leave your athlete too exhausted to do schoolwork. (Manage your athlete’s time by prioritizing studies–tackle home works before training time, study everyday and be ready for unscheduled exams, never wait for deadlines.)

E. Be knowledgeable on the sport in general. Read about the sport as much as you can.

ON NUTRITION: Healthy, natural or unprocessed and, enough.

ON RECOVERY: 7-10hrs of sleep and living in a clean, peaceful yet jovial atmosphere.

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