What sport takes

Dr Gabrielle Jamela Hosein -
Dr Gabrielle Jamela Hosein -

Dr Gabrielle Jamela Hosein

TWELVE YEARS ago, this column began as a diary about mothering. It reflected on the daily navigation of waged work, unwaged labour, public life and the private sphere of love. There was hardly a space that mothers, parents or caregivers could turn to that spoke to the morning they had or the million ways they were organising their family while at work or the exhaustion when night came.

So, this week, I’m writing about the experience of mothering a young triathlete. It’s just been nine months since Zi began to do sports. I’m all books, poetry and the arts, waterfall hikes and adventure days, and was late to enter this community.

She participated in Saturday’s Rainbow Cup in Tobago for the first time, a triathlon in which athletes from three years old compete. Frankly, it’s gruelling. I watched one girl, who looked about 11 and was racked with sobs from the effort of cycling, keep going.

In Ziya’s age category, there are a lot of girls and they are all formidable. They span ethnicities, but the sport is expensive as there is a ton of gear involved, payments to enter competitions that add up and monthly fees for coaching, so there’s a class and geographical barrier for children from low-income families and those in rural areas such as Toco, Mayaro or Cedros. It is really clear how class privilege, and having hard-working parents in professional jobs who are willing to sacrifice for their children, shapes children’s chances.

In sports broadly, you see TT’s young people who have the kind of determination and capacity which the rest of us learn as adults or never learn at all. Parents are screaming enthusiastic instructions at these children as they swim, run or ride past, competition is fierce, and they have to push like they want to win while being prepared to not medal even if they do their best. Then, they have to set goals and start training so that the whole thing can repeat again.

At home, our life is now set by a rigorous schedule of waking up for morning training before school, getting nutrition right and keeping it on time, and working on mindset. We have chosen to try to get Zi’s life, as it revolves around her triathlete training, right. Whatever you get wrong as a parent simply gives your child less chance of success. But what is success?

It is winning, yes. However, most of these athletes will not make it into professional or Olympic-level sports, burnout rates are high, and scholarships are few. Goals have to be calibrated with this in mind.

Our focus began with life skills and psychological fortitude, which are particularly important for neurodiverse children to acquire early so that they can live independently, navigate new situations, manage anxiety and overstimulation, understand complex social interactions, and be able to identify their strengths, weaknesses and needs.

Competitive sports takes children out of their comfort zone and they have to learn motivation, focus and endurance during discomfort, pain and exhaustion. If they don’t practise healthy eating practices that are essential, they simply plateau. Rest and recovery are key as is time management.

Socially, they develop an understanding that competition shows personalities and changes relationships, making some adults toxic and some children unkind. It’s a major skill to forge a path amidst the noise and haste while remaining centred. I used to think these were hard lessons for children to learn, but now I think it’s better Ziya learns them earlier so that she is better prepared for when these encounters come at her in adulthood, inevitably.

There are mostly mothers at practice sessions, some of them single-handedly managing responsibilities that two-parent families share. Frequently, I wonder when they get their jobs done. They are rushing to the grocery in between dropping a child to practice, packing up nearly their whole kitchen in the car to carry on the ferry, cooking at 3 am, hauling about grumpy teenagers who act as if they didn’t ask to be loved so much, administering WhatsApp groups and managing family communication. There are sports dads and involved fathers who do all this, but that women still carry an unequal burden of care remains important to say.

We talk about society’s problems beginning with parenting, but we share less about our lives as parents than we should despite how much the labour of care defines our everyday. Sports parents, this column is for you. I see how much it takes.

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 533



"What sport takes"

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