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The Brood: When kids dream of Olympic gold

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  (L to R) Team USA gold medalists Gabrielle Douglas, Simone Biles, Lauren Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Alexandra Raisman
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: (L to R) Team USA gold medalists Gabrielle Douglas, Simone Biles, Lauren Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Alexandra Raisman
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The Summer games in Rio have come to a close, but the Olympic spirit is no doubt living on in the dreams of countless young athletes.

For a family, seriously committing to a sport on an Olympic level is a huge decision to make.

On this week's installment of The Brood - Take Two’s weekly parenting segment - we look at what goes into making that sort of choice.

Take Two’s Alex Cohen recently sat down with Sarah Maizes whose daughter Livi began training at just one-and-half years old and was at one time, on the U.S.A. gymnastics Olympic track. 

Alex Cohen and Sarah Maizes were also joined by  Tom Farrey, director of the Aspen Institute's Sports and Society Program and the author of "Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children."


How did Livi get so seriously into gymnastics?

Sarah Maizes: I hadn’t even anticipated she would want to go to the Olympics. I mean, she was competitive but I just hadn’t thought of it along those lines. She just never stopped moving and it just seemed like the right choice to put her in gymnastics. She flourished and she just kept going and wanting to be more and more competitive. When she was invited onto the team, she was so excited - it was such a big deal. I think it’s wonderful. I’m a very big believer in ‘reach for your dreams’ and was ultimately very surprised when I found out that her dream was something that I didn’t think I had the stamina for.

When deciding to put your child on an Olympic track, how do you determine if your child has what it takes?

Tom Farrey: The first thing you determine is: Is this what your child actually wants to do? What we have in a lot of youth sports today is a lot of parents dreaming that their kids want to go to the Olympics or play professional football ... and they begin to superimpose their dream onto the child.

You have to understand how incredibly difficult it is, how the odds are so against your child. The bottom line is, the kids who actually make it to the pro or the Olympic level, they’re extremely elite. You have to be really realistic about it. Do they have access to quality coaches? Do they have access to the appropriate training environment?

What should a family consider before stepping up to a serious level of athleticism?

Tom Farrey: It depends on the sport. Gymnastics is what’s called an Early Specialization Sport. The vast majority of sports are called Late Specialization Sports. An athlete peaks at a later age, often in their twenties. You can take a little more of a long term approach.

Athletic development literature suggests that in the vast majority of sports, the emphasis at 12 and under really ought to be on physical literacy which is the development of fundamental movement skills, the love of game, developing that spirit that's going to propel you along as well as the way your body can move. So, you can transfer in to an number of different sports.

What kind of sacrifices does a family need to consider?

Sarah Maizes: Gym fees are in the $600-a- month range and can go upward. [Gymnastics] is a very expensive sport so it’s not something you dabble in. And it's not the sort of thing you sign up for like a class, you’re paying a monthly fee - you’re part of the team.

When Livi was on U.S.A. Gymnastics, she was at the gym three nights a week, four hours a pop. At the level she’s at now at age 13, she would be at the gym five nights a week. You’re living at the gym. You have to do all of your homework at the gym.

What are the positive benefits for a child in competitive sports?

Tom Farrey: The research says, kids who are involved in sports and are physically active are one-tenth as likely to be obese, they’re more likely to stay in school, they’re more likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to go to college. They’re more likely to get a job coming out of college and have lower healthcare costs.

If you have kids involved in sports and physical activity at an early age and they stay active into adulthood, youth sports is a wonderful thing. They're terrific. We just have to understand that we’re dealing with human beings - little human beings- they’re not miniature adults and we need to listen to what they want.

Sarah Maizes: Being competitive has been an incredible experience for my daughter. The amount of pride that she takes in her ability and the confidence that it brings to the other parts of her life - you cannot put a price on it.

*Interview highlights have been edited for clarity.

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.