Father's Day: For the Clarks, It's All in the Family
To celebrate Father’s Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the importance of dads in their children's athletic journeys. We couldn’t think of anyone better for that than Terrance Clark, father of standout gymnast Brie Clark.
To really understand Terrance, you first have to know that he and his wife Tonya aren’t your typical sports parents. Terrance is a motivational speaker and Tonya is the “momager”; together they’re the gymnastics power couple of Alabama. You won’t find them sitting quietly in the back of the stands; nor would you ever catch them asking too much of their child. But you’ll definitely see them — their boisterous presence, personalized t-shirts, and handmade signs guarantee that.
Early in Brie’s gymnastics journey, Terrance learned two rules. First, the gym is a culture. What you put in is what you get out — and that goes for the whole family, not just the athlete in the spotlight. That’s why today, when he returns to the gym to help move equipment, the floor clears and every girl runs off to greet their gym ‘dad’. And that, he says, “does a lot for your heart.”
Second, he says parents need to define their roles within their child’s sport, which means letting go of some control. “You have to define your role with your coach, with yourself as parents, and with your child,” says Terrance. “So coaches coach, and parents protect their kids and make sure they’re mentally right.”
This is why, besides making sure his daughter has access to a world-class gym, additional practices, and quality equipment, Terrance prioritizes making sure Brie is having fun. A lot of times, he does that by keeping her mind off gymnastics, especially on tougher days. After all, sports are supposed to be a fun outlet, not life-consuming burdens.
“A lot of time what the parents forget to do with their kid is to just pick them up, ask them how their day was, and ask them about everything else but gymnastics, unless they bring it up themselves,” says Terrance. “Listen to your kid.” That’s exactly what he does with Brie, and how the pair learned to deal with ‘trash’ days — days where nothing goes Brie’s way. “I could just look in her eyes when I went to pick her up and I could tell today was a challenging day,” says Terrance. So when she gets in the car we’re not going to talk about anything that happened today.” Instead, they would get ice cream or a big hamburger, or any other treat that kept her mind off gymnastics.
By steering clear of talking about gymnastics when necessary — and taking a genuine interest in their lives outside the sport — Terrance was able to connect with so many of Brie’s teammates at the gym. Truly, he didn’t need to have the answers to technical questions, or to have gone through the same struggles back in his day; but just the ability to listen to what they need. And a lot of times, that was just a hug.
Terrance has seen plenty of parents who struggle with this philosophy. “Every parent believes that when their child starts gymnastics, they are on their way to their Olympics,” he jokes. “And that’s fine. You’re supposed to encourage your child; however, when the line grays and you try to coach your child instead of the coach, that becomes a problem. Because the child has to choose and you’re affecting their experience at the gym. And last time I checked, there’s not too many Gold Medalists walking around these gyms.”
When it came to the ‘vocal’ parents at the gym, Terrance helped them better empathize with their young athletes by organizing a parents' competition at the gym. Inviting friends and family to watch, parents signed up for events while the girls served as the judges. All of a sudden, the ones who wondered why their kid was struggling with a ‘basic’ skill realized just how narrow the beam really is — and how hard it is to compete solo with all the eyes on them.
Even with Brie away at school, Terrance and Tonya still have their hands full at home with their 16-year-old son, a standout soccer player who helped his team win its first state championship in school history. Even still, he can’t escape the void of gymnastics. “It becomes a part of your life,” Terrance explains. “You don’t really realize how much you miss it and how much you miss the people, how much you miss encouraging these gymnasts, whose sport is about defying the laws of gravity.”
As Brie gets older and becomes more independent, their relationship continues to evolve. “Your role transitions into how you parent your young adult, because they’re not a child anymore, I stopped telling her what she needed to do, and I tried to give her points she needed to ponder before she made her decision.” That’s great on paper, but in practice, it’s a nerve-racking experience.
Most recently, that meant letting Brie navigate the transfer portal after her freshman season at Utah State. “When she was at Utah State, she loved the area and she loved the school, but I think she wanted a change. She felt like there was more she could do,” says Terrance. Coincidently, Brie’s coach took a position at Clemson University, which is much, much closer to their home in Daphne, Alabama.
In the end everything worked out as Brie followed her coach and many of her teammates to Clemson, but Terrance acknowledged the challenges his new role brought.
“Standing on the sideline is not really our thing. But we have to just watch the process work. If it works and it goes according to plan? Amazing. Then, if there’s a challenge that gets in the way, I can’t jump in; we have to watch to see how she navigates through it, because if we do anything else then we’re not really setting her up for success. Is it easy? No. They’ll always be our babies.”
Fortunately for Terrance, his baby will be a little closer for the next few years.
US Glove salutes Terrance and the countless other dads everywhere who work tirelessly to help their children reach their dream. #unleashyoursuperpower
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