Norwich, a town of 3,000 residents in Vermont, has put at least one of its own on almost every U.S. Winter Olympic team since 1984, producing 11 Olympians, including two Summer Olympians. But it became an Olympic pipeline almost by accident, writes Karen Crouse in: "Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town's Secret to Happiness and Excellence." Part of the credit goes to a local culture that gives kids responsibility and independence. An excerpt:
...The Norwich way gives kids ample space to discover their passions and pursue them for their own reasons and at their own pace. Most of the Norwich Olympians pursued part-time work to cover the costs of their sports. As a teenager, the alpine skier Felix McGrath found a variety of jobs, and while he didn’t make much more than minimum wage, the experiences were priceless. “Finding – and keeping – those jobs forced me to be independent and responsible and accountable,” Felix said.
When Hannah Kearney, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s moguls, was a pre-teen ready to broaden her scope from local and regional competitions to national events her parents sat her down and explained that they could not afford to send her to races anywhere that required airplane flights and hotel stays. If she wanted to continue, she was going to have to find sponsors. They left her to figure out the details. They encouraged her to compose a resume that listed her skiing accomplishments and her grades, which she distributed all over town. Through her efforts, she secured sponsorship from a local car dealership, which helped defray her expenses.
Then a casual conversation between Hannah’s mother and a member of the Norwich Recreation Council led to a phone call from the council member’s father, a self-made millionaire who wanted to help. He would provide funds for Hannah’s skiing and asked for only two things in return: a copy of her grades every term and a detailed budget of how she spent the money. Years later, Hannah expressed gratitude for the man’s gift of money – and perspective. “It was all about my report cards, not my ski results,” she said, “and in being that way he was sending the message that investing in your brain is a little more long-term than investing in freestyle skiing.”
The Norwich parents give their children ownership of their lives. The parents of the moguls skier, Brook Leigh, entrust him with coordinating his complicated school schedule directly with his teachers in two states. As a result, he can communicate with adults much better than most teenagers. Julia Krass’s parents left it to her to decide whether to finish high school by taking online classes, and because she had taken charge of her education, her sense of accomplishment when she was accepted to Dartmouth was great.
The culture created almost by accident in Norwich also requires coaches to work from the same playbook as the parents. They believe that if they do their jobs right, the kids eventually won’t need them. They see themselves as educators, not emissaries assigned to deliver children to the ranks of professional sports.
Which is not to say Olympians grow like weeds the second a kid gets a part-time job. Only that kids are capable of great things (like organizing some of their own time) when we give them the chance. Go Norwich! - L