Debbie Phelps as Role Model for North Shore Parents

Throughout the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the media constantly sought her analysis of Michael’s decisions and performances. Debbie consistently responded with unfailing praise and support, offering phrases like: “Isn’t Mike wonderful? I am so proud of him!”


No critical assessment of any kind was ever given; Debbie sat smiling and cheering in the stands throughout the entire Olympiad, appearing as though her pride would be undiminished even if Michael had finished last in every race.

In communities like ours—rich with resources and awash with competition—it’s often easy for loving and supportive parents to take on the role of coach or push their young athletes too far.

As we nurture our children’s athletic efforts, we can learn a lot from Debbie Phelps, who never seems to cross that line.

After the 2004 Olympics, Michael enrolled at the University of Michigan and served as the Volunteer Assistant Swim Coach. In that role, Phelps was on the sidelines with a clipboard or behind the bench rubbing down the college athletes. He wasn’t the star; he wasn’t even a competitor. Yet Debbie still came to support his meets and sat smiling in the stands.

An attitude like Debbie’s doesn’t just remind us of our parental responsibility to offer unconditional love and support—it also strengthens the bond between child and parent.

Mention his mother to Michael, and he gives a familiar response. With a grin, he says: “Isn’t my mom great? I’m so proud of her!”

Editor’s Note: Debbie Phelps is also a role model for parents of children with ADHD. You can find her blog at