Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete
The path to collegiate athletics is crowded with challenges at every turn for young athletes hoping to make that massive leap.
And the same goes for their families, too.
"If you have a child who is really showing a passion you better learn what to expect and how to help best guide them,” says Jim Karas, an entrepreneur, author, lifestyle expert and father of a former college athlete.
“Especially from my generation there’s the thinking where you don’t get in your kids’ way and you don’t want to be considered a helicopter parent,” Jim says. “I would disagree with that now after this experience. Use your mouth, use your eyes, and use your ears. You have got to ask important questions about how they are doing, how their physical health is, and how their mental health is. Use your ears and listen to what is going on and get a temperature for how they are feeling.”
Says Olivia, who graduated in 2019 and these days is a public relations and corporate communications professional: “I’m close with both my mom and dad and have very special relationships with both of them, so I was always vocal - but I definitely wasn’t vocal enough about some things that happened in my experiences. When I look back, I wish I had been more vocal because they definitely could have helped me through it.”
PEEKING BEHIND THE COLLEGE CURTAIN
The book covers a variety of all-important topics: the college recruiting process, navigating different types of coaching styles, handling pressure and stress, mental health, body image, and much more.
With the increased attention on the mental health of young athletes these days, that is an area that Jim encourages parents to really be dialed into as they attend athletic events.
"Look at what's going on during competitions and what's going on during practice," he says. "I would say be far more present and far more aware of the pressures, specifically emotionally, that your child is going through."
There’s also a powerful chapter written by Olivia’s brother Evan, sharing what life was like operating in the shadows of a talented sibling.
“When Olivia and I both read it our mouths hung open for a while,” Jim says. “It was gut-wrenching. I was very upset that I missed how unhappy my son was on account of that our life revolved around Olivia’s sports. So I would tell any parent that if you have a star gymnast, a star debater, a star artist, whatever it is, pay very close attention to the siblings because they may not be having a very good time.”
Oozing energy as a child, Olivia's parents enrolled her in all sorts of activities. But it was gymnastics that captivated her from the start.
“That feeling of flying I loved,” Olivia says. “But also there was so much to improve on. Every time you got up on an apparatus you had an opportunity to do a little bit better than the last time and I loved that about the sport. But I also loved that it was unique. It wasn’t playing soccer or volleyball or basketball. There was just something so magical and irresistible to a young girl who just adored everything about the sport.”
And post-meet car rides home didn’t turn into coaching sessions on what went wrong. "If she wanted to talk about it we’d talk about it,” Jim says. “If she didn’t want to talk about it we’d just leave it alone.”
“My parents always gave me a big hug after the meet, always said ‘we’re so proud of you’ and always encouraged me, regardless of my performance,” Olivia says. “And I think that made it more fun and more about what I wanted. Everyone was really great about supporting me and my journey and not making it about gymnastics skills.”
WORDS OF WISDOM: LISTEN TO YOURSELF
Olivia encourages today’s young athletes to pay close attention to how they are feeling about their sport.
“If you’re in middle school or high school know that there’s a difference between being frustrated with the sport and straight out disliking the sport,” she says. “I found myself frustrated with gymnastics all the time, but it never drove me to quit because the love just shone through a little bit more than the dislike in that moment. So my advice would be if you find yourself really, really dreading practices, and dreading games or meets, take a step back. You’re not a failure for leaving the sport. It might actually drive you to something better at the end of the day. So just listen to yourself, listen to your body and listen to your mind, and if you’re just not into it don’t push yourself to do it. Find your passion.”
For those athletes fortunate enough to continue their athletic careers into college, Olivia encourages them to savor all the experiences that are a part of the journey.
“College athletics is the end all, be all,” Olivia says. “It is the pinnacle and it is the most amazing experience. You meet your best friends, you represent a university, and you get to compete in front of massive crowds. It checks every box of the dream, and so if you get the opportunity – D1 through D3 – do it. You will enjoy it.”
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Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender on savoring the joys of competing, conquering pressure, staying focused, and more
Football coach Rob Mendez on teaching young athletes the all-important values of working hard, being resilient and chasing dreams