In early November, the Sport Ethics class that is taught by Dr. Clark Haptonstall at Rice University welcomed two endurance runners, Kaytlynn and Heather Welsch, and their dad, Rodney Welsch, to contribute to the topic of ethics in youth sports. Kaytlynn, age 14, and Heather, age 12, are nationally ranked runners, equally recognized for both their talent and their dad’s coaching methods.
In some youth sports, there is the stereotype of the overbearing parent-coach who pushes their kid a little too hard, a little too soon, often resulting in burnout. The Welsches offer a new perspective on this topic that shows that parents do not always have to be the overzealous, sideline nightmare. Rodney may have to push his girls to do their best, but he never has to push them to want to run.
“Heather is one of these ones that if her leg gets cut off in a race, she’ll finish it,” Rodney, dad and coach, says of his youngest daughter. “I try to push Kaytlynn to get better and lately, it’s been Heather pushing [Kaytlynn] to get better. There’s a lot of competition between them that I don’t have to push them so hard.”
The girls first started running to fill their weekends, just as a fun hobby. Now, both girls are considering running in college and even eyeing the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The potential is there, according to dad, but the girls are going to have to train harder.
“What she’s doing now and then at that level, it’s a thousand-fold as far as the workload and everything else she has to deal with, that’s a big challenge,” Rodney says of the girls’ dreams to go to the Olympics. “I know she can do it, but it’s a matter of commitment.”
In addition to being tremendous athletes, both girls do well in school, with Kaytlynn recently winning an academic decathlon. Both dad and mom, Niki, stress the importance of being well-rounded individuals to the girls frequently. However, the girls’ love for running shows no signs of diminishing anytime soon.
“When we were little, I think it was just mostly for the trophies, because they’re all shiny,” little sister Heather joked. “But now, it’s more just for the accomplishment.”
There seemed to be a consensus in the room that Rodney had somehow found the balance, for the most part, between pushing the girls to reach their potential, but allowing them to do so on their own terms. Whether the Welsches are the anomalies or just an underrepresented kind of family in youth sports, there is no doubt that the girls, and their dad, will continue to make headlines for years to come.
Summer Roberson, a sophomore from Houston, is double majoring in Sport Management and Political Science.