Australia’s snowboarding ‘tennis parents’ hit back

Guest blogger, Ellen Davis Meehan, defends australia’s snowboarding parents and calls for an end to public punch ups in favour of transparency.

Parentism. Not a word that has been around long enough to be in the Oxford Dictionary, but defined by the Urban Dictionary as discriminating against parents by devaluing someone’s contribution purely because they are a parent.

It is something those with children in junior snowboarding in Australia know well. Recent comments in the media about “a tennis parent problem” and “meddlesome parents” have wounded a lot of hard working, intelligent and engaged parents who make an enormous contribution to the development of snowboarding in Australia.

The voluntary input of parents support is not unique to Australian snowboarding. Anyone with a child in sport knows what it takes. But almost all snowboarding development in Australia is funded by parents.

Why? Because there are no snowboard development programs that are sponsored by the national body or government. Three snowboard athletes (Steph Magiros, Alex Fitch and Michaela Davis-Meehan) receive some training support from NSWIS but sit outside any programs.

Over 9 years ago parents of snowboarding athletes in Australia with the support of Perisher Resort and coaching staff established the Australian Junior Series (AJS) – the premier junior competition for freestyle snowboarders in Australia.

Junior Series

Mick Johnstone, father of Olympian Nate Johnstone was one of the original members of the AJS Committee. Darren Hughes, father of Olympian Jarryd Hughes, still works for that event and on other snowboarding development undertaken by the AJS Committee.

The AJS Committee was successful in getting TTR rankings (World Snowboard Tour event points) for the AJS and insisting that Ski and Snowboard Australia (SSA) joined the World Snowboard Federation. The Committee also brought the World Rookie Fest to Australia and has attracted the top international Junior riders to come and spend 2 weeks in Australia for the event.

In 2013 the current Slopestyle Gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg (US) came to the event with his sister and spent time talking to the young Aussie riders and encouraging them on their journeys.

All of this has been set up by parents.

Darren Hughes has provided significant cross training opportunities at his Monster Skate Park not only for his own son but for Olympian Russ Henshaw and other development riders, and as support programs for the NSW Institute of Sport. Darren also bought the Bag Jump to Australia and the Cardrona training camp where it was utilised by nearly all our elite athletes.

Harry Magiros, father of Olympian Steph Magiros, is the unofficial photographer to the parent run Facebook site “Extreme Parenting” and for the many parents who can’t afford to travel to support their children, has done his best to promote all our riders. Harry provided the first ever photo of the women’s HP team together in one place in Sochi.

Celia James has been instrumental in putting together perhaps the best model of athlete management in Australia where Scotty James has an internationally acclaimed coach and Scotty’s highly skilled brother Tim as trainer, wax tech and constant team companion. Scotty’s parents work tirelessly and in partnership with snowboarding legends the Teeters to shape Scotty James into the incredible talent and brand that he is.

We the parents are elected members of snow sports Boards and State Olympic Committees. Nick Kennedy, father of Skier X athlete Sami is on the board of SSA, as is Steve Cooper, father of moguls Olympian Ramone who now is employed by SSA.

Nicole Staveley, mother to Lauren, Cam and Luke, is on the Victorian Snowsports Committee. Even Dean Gosper is father-in-law to snowboarder Robbie Walker who competed on World Cup in 2013.

It is the parents who rally around when something goes wrong. A young rider stranded when travelling alone, assistance to those injured or in need of a bed when accommodation mishaps occur.

It is the parents who volunteer as house parents on Australian coaching camps overseas, the parents who fund their children to get there and the parents whose tax dollars go towards funding SSA and OWIA. And it is the parents that pay their children’s way training and competing overseas in order to get to a stage where they can qualify for high performance funding.

Even when they do get there parents are still co-funding subsidized coaches, physios, nutrition and sports psychologists. Those at the top end have managers, the rest have parents.

And it is the parents who quite rightly demand transparency and accountability from the structures that service the elite level of the sport.

What we have seen in recent media relating to Sochi and athlete funding is a public punch up between a parent and the CEO of the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia (OWIA) that appears to have been going on in private for some time.

Agree or not with the timing and media recipients of Bruce Brockhoff’s email, the issues of funding raised by a clearly frustrated parent are legitimate and given the enormous contribution of parents at all levels of the sport need to be addressed. Full disclosure and an external review and audit is the only way to step away from the spin and develop a more equitable approach to snowboard development and support of elite snowboard athletes.

OWIA has both a transparency and snowboard performance problem. Three Olympic Games and the only snowboard medals, two from Torah Bright, have come from someone who has chosen to plough a path outside OWIA because the current system is apparently unacceptable to her.

The Australian Snowboard Team does not have a “tennis parent” problem; they have a parent asset bank.

Tennis anyone?

Is Davis-Meehan right, Brockhoff right or the OWIA right? Should parents have a say and if so, where, when and at what level? Should the OWIA be more transparent on how they spend athlete funding?

Read more: Medalling Parents what the world can learn from David Morris’ family

Ellen Davis Meehan is a social research consultant and mother of Michaela Davis-Meehan, former World Rookie Champion and world cup circuit Slopestyle snowboader and Pat Davis-Meehan, former NSWIS Halfpipe rider. She is the name behind the Extreme Parenting Facebook page and a Board Member of Snowsports NSW and on its Snowboarding Sub-Committee and is a member of the National Snowboard Committee. As a skier, she is a very ordinary snowboarder.

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  1. A well structured article that explains a lot. The email spat be it true or not was I think ill timed, having said that I do not know the full story re frustrations etc. So will not proffer more but still. The funding and how it is distributed is for those involved both the distributor of the funds and the athletes themselves and to hell with the public. Most of the criticism was coming from people with little or no knowledge of the sport…perhaps some publicity explaining more about the sport could be helpful (public conception is that you are all paid a wish!) but again how many of the public are interested. There is obviously a unity/ trust problem and this needs addressing yesterday before it is out of control. It is still a young venture as far as public go and those involved are slightly different in attitude than say a figure skater or langlaufer….much more cheerful but more exciting to watch but their smiles camaraderie afterwards are often taken as could not care less attitude particularly if the were not winners….that to me just shows true sportsmanship ….most are obscenely serious . The simple answer is you are all right and should be able to work it out amongst yourselves but obviously honesty, calm heads and openness is required. Yes a tall order but that is the way forward. Common sense & yes talk between ALL involved.

  2. A quality response to all the shenanigans in the media. You can’t please everyone, but transparency can only help people understand, and push for corrective action when required.

    Public support will be hard to get though for sports where the entry costs are so high. Only a lucky/privileged few get the opportunity to ride/ski enough to even get to the stage where talent can be identified.

  3. A very sensible blog here. It’s not much to ask for respect and transparency – from some of the statements from the officialdom – they don’t seem to think they owe these parents either. Some of the sacrifices they make – as in all junior quasi professional sports is amazing. Let’s see how the officials respond. After seeing Jacqui coopers horrendous rant at Torah bright , that’s now virally spreading round the snowsports world – and yes she’s a board member of the Olympic mob – well we will see what they are made of .

  4. Parents are obviously important stakeholders. The response of Geoff Lipshut and the further oblique reference to parents by Jacqui Cooper (incidentally they competed together in Lillehammer) was nasty and spiteful.

    The lack of diversity amongst the staff and boards of SSA and OWIA (with such strong connections to Buller and Buller freestyle skiing – Gosper, Kennedy, Lipshut, J. Cooper, R. Cooper, Marshall) needs to be examined. There is a huge potential conflict of interest when these two bodies are negotiating arrangements. SSA must consider disciplines where Olympics and World Cups are not the only benchmark events. And as Torah was I think trying to say, and the Australian Sports commission explicitly say, they have a responsibility in athlete development, not just in funding successful athletes.

    I think Lipshut and his attack dog were just marking their territory. As your blogger says, we need transparency and accountability from these guys, not just aggression.

  5. Wow joe. Didn’t realize the buller concentration . That does need looking at for good geographic/demographic representation for the whole snow fraternity

  6. What occurs to me as a non-snowsport parent and also a tax payer is as follows:

    1. Sport and successful sports performances are very important to our nation’s profile and to our sense of who we are as a country. Given our relatively small population we seem to punch above our weight in this respect which is fantastic. Adequate funding for elite sports is very important if we are to maintain this.

    2. All young athletes who show promise should be given equal access to development opportunities (which of course means funding as well).

    3. There should be well defined and understood development paths for promising athletes, with clear goals and specified rewards when they achieve these goals. These should be published and transparent so that the young people know what they are working towards and how to get there.

    4. Parental support is absolutely essential if these young people are to succeed. While the kids may not be aware in all cases of unfairness and shifting goal-posts around them as they concentrate on their sport, the parents who they need to drive them around, pay for them, kit them out, coach them, fly them to competitions and generally provide them with everything else that they need are very focused on the interests of their children, and so they should be. If promised funding is not received or expectations are built and not met, the parents can be expected to stand up for the hard working, committed children… I know I would!

    I don’t know all of the details or understand the politics of the current debate about snow-sport funding, but there is rarely smoke without fire and if questions are being asked and not answered or if answers provided are not adequate, it just makes the situation murkier and more suspicious. Get a grip funding bodies, most if not all of this is public money you are spending. Put it all on the table for all parties to see and share the money and resources around fairly and equitably so that everyone can have a go, not just the top one or two.

  7. Does any of this monopoly by wealthy families at the competitor, coaching, judging and funding levels do anything to open the sport up to average to low income familes? Not one iota. Its just another example our how wealth and privilege can by fame and greater fortune. Please dropping pretend it’s anything else.


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