Former ESPN Anchor Lisa Kerney on Raising an Athlete

Whether you were an athlete growing up or had two left feet, most of us would love our children to have success with sports, and have fun while doing it. As a former ESPN SportsCenter anchor and reporter, Lisa Kerney got an up front and personal view of elite athletes, and what it really takes to get there. (Side note: she also married a former NFL player, Patrick Kerney, who played on the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.) We spoke to the current host of FanDuel and More Ways To Win on TVG—and mom of  four—about what she has learned over the years about raising an athlete, and how she is introducing her own children into sports.

You grew up playing sports and even playing basketball in college. How has the sports landscape changed since you were a kid?
In some ways it hasn’t…we all sit around Binney Park [in Old Greenwich, CT] and watch our little kiddos run around for an hour kicking a soccer ball which is exactly what my parents used to do for me and my siblings when I was growing up in Kansas City. It’s refreshing and satisfying to watch them all out there with their tiny cleats and shin guards and oversized soccer balls! We’re still in those early stages where inclusion isn’t a question and competition is what the kids make it for themselves. Our oldest is seven years old so we’re not yet into travel teams or year-round training for any particular sport, but I know that exists at a high level here in Greenwich. It’s tremendous for our kids to have the opportunity to train with wonderfully accomplished coaches in fantastic programs, and I look forward to exploring these options should our children want to do that. I played premier soccer, JTL tennis and AAU basketball before going on to play hoops in college so I was always seeking out more intensity, better competition and more practice. In a way I made it easy for my parents because I forged my own path in that regard, but I know as kids get older there’s more and more pressure to perform at a high level no matter where you grow up.

How did they encourage your natural drive?
I’m one of five children from a wildly competitive home! My parents were both athletes and all of my siblings are athletic and competitive so I was lucky to have built-in teammates and opponents at the same time. We were constantly playing outside and competing against each other in….everything! My introduction to sports was really through them and playing with the neighborhood kids and not as formal as it is for our kids now. In the summer, we’d have 10 or 15 kids get together in the driveway most nights and play pick up hoops and capture the flag. It was awesome. The camaraderie and spirit in sports is infectious and I was in love with it all from the start. I was also raised to love the Chiefs, cheer on the Royals and live and die by the Kansas Jayhawks…so to say we had a sporty household when I was young is putting it mildly!

Do you think kids specialize too early in one sport?
I strongly believe it’s important for children, especially young ones, to experience sports in a positive environment. If it makes their heart happy to play basketball for 18 hours a day, then I’m all for it but I’m not going to push my children to specialize in just one sport if that’s not their desire. I think there’s a lot of value in experiencing multiple sports at a young age to give children the opportunity to try different things, move their bodies in different ways and learn valuable lessons from both team and individual activities. As long as they’re healthy, active and moving…I’m a happy mama!

What approach have you taken with your own kids so far?
We’re very much in an experimental phase! Our kids are still young enough that we’re just wanting them to try any and all sports. I’ll sign them up for activities they say they want to try or sports they want to play and then at the end of each season or session, I sit down with each one of them and ask if they had fun in their activities and if they want to continue, say gymnastics or soccer or whatever it may be, and that helps shape our sports calendar for the next few months. If they were happy, then great! I’ll sign them up again. If it was a struggle each week to get them to participate and enjoy it, then forget it. It’s not fun for them or for me if we’re forcing an activity just to do it. No thanks, I’m out! The sports calendar for four kids is tricky enough to navigate, so if they don’t want to play I’m not forcing it! With that said, I like them to be active every day so I’ll make sure they get outside to ride bikes, jump on the trampoline or just run around and play. Kids are kids…they have to get their energy out one way or another!

Do you feel like there is pressure to create mini-athletes because you’re in the industry?
Pressure only exists if you give attention to it. We don’t feel that in the least. Patrick and I both played a number of sports growing up, so, naturally, we’d love for our kids to have the desire to compete and play lots of sports but they could be the worse player on the team and we’ll support them, be crazy proud and love them all the same.

You meet and interview incredibly successful athletes all the time. What have you noticed they have in common?
A relentless work ethic. I have found that the most successful athletes are those that embrace and love the grind…the sweat, the pain, the sacrifice, all of it. You may not be the most talented or gifted athlete, but you can outwork anyone if you want it badly enough.

Any other words of wisdom you impart on other parents?
Listen to your kids. Give them your undivided attention and listen. It’s so important in our busy lives of running here and there to make time, push to-do lists aside and be present. Love them, support them…and listen. They’ll be off to college in a blink.

What would you do if your children decided that they prefer, say, art or music over sports?
I would love it because that means they’ve found something that makes their heart happy!

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