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Raising Champion Athletes & Champion Kids

Nine district championships, six regional championships, five-time Top 5 State Finisher, and a GPA of 3.95. Academy at the Lakes’ senior, McKenna Smith, is a champion both in the pool and in the classroom. Her dedication, perseverance, and grit have led her to the top of the swimming world. Her younger brother, Nate Smith, is carving out his path as a champion swimmer and school soccer player!

Champion student-athletes are a rare group, yet they all have one thing in common, incredible parents. Jennifer and Brent Smith never expected to raise a champion athlete, let alone two. “We both played sports growing up and wanted our kids to have the same social outlet. I don’t think either of us expected it to become such a major part of our lives,” said Jennifer during a recent phone interview.

“Our goal has always been to make sure they are both having fun,” said Brent. McKenna, who recently signed to swim at the collegiate level for Duke University, started her athletics career in gymnastics until moving on to volleyball. At age 12, McKenna began to explore swimming, quickly proving to be a dynamic swimmer in freestyle.

Keeping up with two athletes can be challenging for Jennifer and Brent. The solution, according to Brent, is divide and conquer, splitting driving duties and cheerleading duties. Hours spent in the car became family time, a trick that Brent says is vital. “I think it is so important to use that time in the car to our advantage. As the driver you give your focus to the road which lets your kids take control of the conversation and open up. That time together helps us check-in between busy schedules.”

Of course, car time isn’t the only way the family finds time to spend together. Jennifer is proud of her “sport-cations,” fun ways for the family to enjoy their trips to various competitions. At each competition location, Jennifer looks for unique activities in the area for the family to experience. The more unusual, the better!

Related: Limitless opportunities at Academy at the Lakes: Alumni share stories of success

According to Brent, the most challenging part of raising champion athletes is preparing them for experiences you do not expect, like recruitment. One day in the fall, NCAA coaches across the country become eligible to begin courting future students. “How do you prepare your daughter for the moment when Harvard calls her or when recruiters from The Big 10 jostle for her attention after a meet? We teach kids to talk to adults but teaching them how to turn down a conversation or remove themselves from a conversation is a totally different experience,” said Brent. The answer, like everything, is to face it as a team.

The final key to the Smith family’s success was finding a community. Both McKenna and Nate attend Academy at the Lakes located in Land O’ Lakes. Known for its small class sizes and personalized education planning, the Academy community has become their biggest fans. Having the flexibility provided by faculty and a curriculum that encourages individual study has allowed McKenna to foster her academic side without sacrificing her swimming career.

So, what’s next for the Smiths? More years of sport-cations watching both McKenna and Nate achieve new heights. The goal? To visit every ACC competition pool before both Smith athletes graduate.

Related: How Academy at the Lakes’ Worldly Curriculum Delivers Results

Academy at the Lakes Tampa Private School

CLICK: Discover Tampa Bay Parenting’s 2021 Education Guide

Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne is an award-winning former television news journalist who spent 15+ years in newsrooms across the state of Florida including Sarasota, Tallahassee, Fort Myers and right here in Tampa Bay where she still freelances on occasion. She covered the political beat, crime beat and every day breaking news during her time in Florida newsrooms, but is now focused on sharing positive news stories and events with families in Tampa Bay. She is a proud mommy of two little boys who keep her on her toes and laughing every day. Her goal is to inspire families just like yours to get out and play and experience all that Tampa Bay and our great state of Florida have to offer! She encourages you to share your stories and upcoming events so we can spread the good news.

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