Michael Phelps’ Mom on How to Raise an Olympian

Michael Butler
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Imagine sending your child off to a swimming lesson and them returning with a note from their teacher, asking you to please drive faster or use training wheels for now as they’re freaked out. You’d probably be a little anxious yourself, right? Michael Phelps’ Mom, who had the pleasure of raising an Olympian, wasn’t so convinced of her son’s potential at first.

It was during a swim lesson, when Phelps was just 6 years old, that he gave his first indication of having an uncanny gift for swimming. His instructor, Bob Bowman, a former Olympic swimmer, had the young Phelps swim back and forth across the pool during the lesson. This is a common exercise for most beginning swimmers, no matter the age.

Some of the kids have a difficult time with it, like they have a natural buoyancy that makes moving through the water feel almost effortless. Not Phelps, who was almost hit by a rowboat, and got the nickname “Chunk” from the lady teaching the class because of this. This obviously wasn’t a good thing. He was supposed to be the bright spot in the class.

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“There’s no secret to raising champions. Spend time one-on-one with your kids. Listening to your children, both what they say and what they don’t say, is HUGE,” said former US Olympian Anita DeFrantz. DeFrantz is the only person to have competed in five different sports in the Olympics. She won two bronze medals in rowing, two in fencing, and gold and bronze in swimming. She is also the only woman to serve on the International Olympic Committee.

She says consistency is key. She champions spending time with your children, listening to them, and watching them. “It’s not only about being in the pool, it’s about being on the road. It’s about being in the dinner table. What they do is what they want to do, so you have to be there.”