Raising them to be resilient: Wisdom from parents of superstars

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Missy Franklin endured some surprising upsets at the Rio Games. weathering what she called the "hardest week of her life" with remarkable grace.

Four years ago, Missy Franklin made a big splash at the London Olympics, winning four gold medals and winning over fans with her infectious smile, bubbly personality and ability to touch the wall before anyone else. Her mom and dad, DA and Dick, were lauded for their low-key approach and for letting Missy remain a normal teen. Rather than turn pro and cash in on her golden moment, she returned to Colorado to swim with her high school team and longtime coach, then went on to win an NCAA title -- and study psychology -- at the University of California, Berkeley.

Missy did eventually turn pro after two seasons at Cal, and the 21-year-old brought a bevy of sponsorships and enormous expectations to the Rio Games. I spoke with DA, who has written a book with her daughter that will come out in December, a few weeks before the U.S. trials about the joys and stresses of sports parenting. Watching Missy weather what she called the "hardest week of her life" -- during which she did not medal in an individual event -- with remarkable grace, I thought back to that conversation. And I wondered: What can the Franklins' example teach the rest of us about raising resilient kids who can bounce back from devastating disappointment?

Here are a few of DA Franklin's hard-won words of wisdom -- as well as some sage sports parenting advice I've received from the moms of other superstars -- about how to successfully support your daughters and sons from the sidelines.

Failure is an option

While it's heartbreaking to see your child feel like she's failed, it's an experience no one can escape, says DA. So you need to prepare your kids, however prodigious their talents, to cope with coming up short at some point.

After Missy's triumph in London she suffered a crippling bout of back spasms at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, left her longtime coach to head off to college, and struggled to balance the demands of both sponsors and school. Those life lessons inspired her to write a poignant letter to her parents, thanking her "best friends in the entire world" for "letting me make my own mistakes."

"When Missy hurt her back -- the pain was so, so severe that she couldn't move for 45 minutes -- it was a teachable moment for her," says DA. "She realized then that not everything will go perfectly for her. So she decided, 'I need to focus on the things that I can control.'"

Letting your child experience the sadness of not measuring up can help him assess what he'll have to do differently next time to succeed, says Diana Benedict, mom of Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts.

When Betts, now a frontrunner for American League MVP honors, started playing sports, he was the smallest kid on the court. A few minutes into his first basketball game, another boy stole the ball from him.

"Mookie sat there and bawled," says Benedict. "You would have thought that somebody had just hit him in the face. I told him, 'I want you to make this an opportunity to better yourself and be stronger next time. You're gonna go out there, play hard and get the ball back.' He didn't do it that game, but when he did, I could tell that something had clicked for him."

Don't let others define them

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the NFL's reigning defensive player of the year, is recovering from back surgery. But it's hardly the first challenge he's faced in Houston. When the Texans took Watt 11th overall in the 2011 draft, fans didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat.

"The entire draft party in Texas booed him," says his mom, Connie Watt. "That was hard. I told him that it didn't have anything to do with him or what he'd done in college. It was because they wanted the team to take someone who was better known. They didn't know J.J. or his work ethic."

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Kevin Durant saluted his mother, Wanda Pratt, as "the real MVP" during his 2014 NBA MVP acceptance speech.

Let your kids see you struggle

If they see you stumble and survive, writes Jessica Lahey in her book, "The Gift of Failure," they will realize that failing at a task is not the same as failing as a person.

Kevin Durant credits his mother, Wanda -- who raised Kevin and his brother, Tony, as a single parent in Washington, D.C., on a postal worker's salary -- for showing him how to rebound from setbacks. He saluted her as "the real MVP" during his moving 2014 NBA MVP acceptance speech.

"At one point, when I was working overnight shifts, Kevin asked me, 'How long are you going to keep working like this?'" says Wanda Durant. "It was hard on him and his brother, too. But I told him, 'It's what I have to do to make sure we're OK.' He understood."

After the game, talk about anything but the game

Win or lose, don't rehash your child's performance right after a match or meet, says DA Franklin.

"After Missy swam as a kid, the only things I would ask were: 'Did you do your best?' and 'Did you have fun?' she says. "When Missy would say, 'Yep, I had a blast,' that was the end of the discussion. Her father and I would respond, 'Fantastic! Now let's go get some dinner.'

"I still tell her, 'Have fun!' before every competition."

I still tell her, 'Have fun!' before every competition.
DA Franklin, mother of Olympian Missy Franklin

When your kid is ready to talk about the game -- or anything else -- don't lecture, just listen, says Wanda Durant.

"Kevin knew he could talk to me about anything," says Durant, who counseled her son as he agonized over where to sign this summer. "There are still times when he will call and we'll just kind of talk things through."

Let their teammates tag along

Don't just listen to your own kid -- get to know her teammates, too. You never know what you might overhear during the carpool chatter.

"Even at those stages when your kids don't want to talk to you, per se, about what's going on, invite their friends over," says Connie Watt, who runs her son's foundation, which funds after-school programs for teens. "There's a lot you'll learn."

Be the parent, and let the coach coach

"Dick and I agreed -- let's let the coach handle the coaching and we'll do the parenting," says Franklin. "We've seen so many times that parents can affect how the child feels about the sport. We wanted to give Missy that space to develop that relationship and trust with her coach."

Benedict was her son's first coach, but eventually realized that it was time move to the sidelines.

"Sometimes the parents can be the worst enemy," she says. "Sometimes it's best to step back and let a friend or a professional teach your child."

Remind them that this too shall pass

As Missy, who remained gracious and forthcoming with the media after each race, suffered through her public belly flops off the blocks, she did what any 21-year-old would: call her mom and have a good cry. "She just told me that it's going to be OK, and that's all I needed to hear," Missy told reporters in Rio.

"Missy puts a positive twist on everything," DA told me back in June. "She has a very optimistic, spiritual way of looking at things." 

Indeed, it only took a day or so after her final race in Rio for Missy to regain her buoyancy outside the pool. "It's all going to be OK. I'm loved, I'm supported," she said. "If a disappointing swim meet is the worst thing that happens to me in my life, I have a pretty damn good life."

Aimee Crawford (@AimeeJCrawford) is a senior editor for ESPN.com and a baseball, soccer, hockey and hoops mom/coach to two sports-obsessed kids.

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