I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics this month. I enjoy the human interest stories such as Chloe Kim’s and the drama of watching Shaun White stick his final run in the men’s halfpipe to win the Gold. Thus, with the Olympics upon us I have been intrigued by a recently released book titled, Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence. I had a chance to read the book last week and this is a really interesting story of a small Vermont town that has produced more Olympians per capita than any other place in the country.
Norwich, Vermont is a small town with a large impact on the Winter Olympics. This town of 3000 residents has sent someone to every Winter Olympics for the past 30 years. It has produced 11 Olympians, all but one since 1984 – 3 have won medals. (They do not have a participant this year.) The towns folks kiddingly say that it is something in the water. But in reality, the book supposes that it is in the way they raise their children. More than in most places in the United States today, these Norwich kids are allowed free rein to choose what they want to do, and what sport to play, often becoming involved in multiple sports, depending on the season. As a result, the kids are more likely to love what they do and truly want to see others reach their full potential. Because of this ongoing record of sending athletes to the Olympics, these rising stars learn from the example of those who came before them, and in return, when their time comes, most want to stay in Norwich and give back to the community that supported them in their endeavors. The author stresses that Norwich is a town where ‘everyone wants success for everybody else’.
Norwich’s population is certainly not representative of the country as whole and their per capita income and proximity to Dartmouth College provide some unique advantages. But there are potentially lessons to be learned by the town’s child-rearing philosophy that could be replicated in any community with parents, coaches, and administrators committed to following a few simple principles: Treat your neighbor’s child as your own (in Norwich, parents are invested in everybody’s children, not just their own. They foster an environment in which the success of one child is celebrated as a victory for everyone); frame sports as a really fun thing for your children to do on their way to longer-lasting achievements rooted in education and give children ownership of their activities.
Finally, the parents of Norwich seem to keep things in perspective (something I will admit to struggling with at times). They are not setting out to develop Olympians. Their aim is to use sports as a vehicle to instill in their kids a lasting love of the outdoors and physical activity, learn life lessons, and develop lasting friendships. They recognize that in the big picture, relationships matter more than championships.
I hope you’re enjoying these Olympics!
-Trent Bowers, Superintendent