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The power of a positive message
By Greg Bach
The words were shouted from the stands by her mom during a national youth gymnastics meet many years ago.
And they’ve never been forgotten.
Lauren Sisler, an award-winning broadcaster who joined ESPN and the SEC Network in 2016, was on the receiving end of the message.
And it was powerful.
Sisler’s family had traveled from their home in Virginia to Florida, so she could compete in her first big gymnastics meet; and then the family planned to fulfill the dream that all kids have – heading to Disney World to cap off the trip.
“I’ll never forget that we were in this huge ballroom and I was probably 9 or 10 years old and it was the biggest stage I had ever competed on,” Sisler recalls. “I was on the balance beam and I fell, and it was almost like you could hear a pin drop. Of course, I was upset and disappointed in myself and I’ll never forget my mom jumped up out of the stands and yelled across the gym, ‘Don’t worry, Lauren. We’re still going to Disney World.’”
Within seconds those words soothed a young athlete’s heartache.
“I remember just hearing that encouragement and thinking that it wasn’t the end of the world,” Sisler says. “Obviously, it was a big meet but at the end of the day being able to make it to nationals was a huge accomplishment for me at that point in my career.”
Plus, the family’s vacation itinerary did not change.
“Of course, the next day I remember standing in line for Splash Mountain as if I was on top of the world because I had just competed in one of my biggest gymnastics competitions,” Sisler says.
And those heartfelt words from Mom helped her relax and dial in on the other events that awaited.
“I did really well and ended up placing in the other events,” she says.
Sisler tried a variety of sports growing up, but gymnastics tugged at her heart and her parents were there to support and encourage her every flip and tumble along the way.
“I think the biggest thing is allowing kids to go out and try things,” she says. “I tried other sports but ultimately I made the decision that I wanted to do gymnastics and I think it’s important for parents to really understand that kids really have to pave the way. Sure, I think parents should certainly motivate, encourage and inspire their kids and give them the opportunity to try different things, but ultimately I think it does need to be the kid’s decision and I think that’s probably why gymnastics was so beneficial and something that worked out so well for me because my parents really gave me the reins on that.”
Sisler never felt burdened to stick with the sport or pressured to become an elite gymnast. Her parents told her if she ever felt like going in a different direction they would fully support that decision.
“I think that was very important for me because it allowed me to see that I was doing the sport for myself and nobody else,” she says. “That was something that really stood out to me in how they treated me and how they really encouraged me along the way. I’ve seen a lot of parents unfortunately get too involved in the wrong way and I think it can certainly deter kids, especially from a mental aspect, from being successful in a sport because they’re doing it more for their parents or other people in their lives and not themselves.”
Sisler’s journey eventually landed her at Rutgers, where she competed on the gymnastics team. She fought through numerous injuries, including a fractured femur, and was eventually named a co-captain.
She also dealt with unimaginable heartbreak.
“Growing up I actually always had dreams of being a sports doctor and then when I got to college I was struck with tragedy when I lost both of my parents to prescription drug overdoses within a few hours of each other very unexpectedly,” she says. “Both had been suffering from chronic pain and unfortunately were heavily prescribed and eventually it led to the addiction. But ultimately it kind of was an opportunity for me to re-evaluate myself.”
Sisler has always been an outgoing person, full of positive energy: she loves meeting new people, and speaking to big groups doesn’t create nervousness; she embraces those opportunities.
So, it’s easy to see why her career is flourishing.
And all those years competing in gymnastics helped forge the confidence to go in front of the camera with millions watching.
“I do think that gymnastics really helped that because all eyes are on you, so you really have to take control of that routine,” Sisler says. “It’s up to you to perform that routine to the best of your ability. And so you are being put out there in front of people in such a way that does add that pressure, but also highlights you as a person.”
Sisler loved the sport: the hard work, the pursuit of improvement, the competition.
“I miss the sport,” she says. “I always tell people that I hate that gymnastics is a sport that you can’t just go out in your backyard and play a game of pick-up gymnastics.”
A child’s first coach wields enormous influence and can be the difference between a child loving – or leaving – the sport. Just ask Prim Siripipat, whose love of tennis was forged by an incredibly supportive and caring coach
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