Kerri Walsh Jennings On Positivity, Competition, And Athlete Mommyhood

Beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings, the newest addition to Team ASICS, has as many children as she does Olympic gold medals. Her older boys, Joey and Sundance, will turn five and four, respectively, before the end of May, and her baby girl, Scout, just turned one. We caught Kerri in between a tournament in China and birthday party planning to chat about her life as an athlete mommy.

Are your kids already active and competitive?

Yes! Joey is so competitive it’s amazing. We have to decide which teams he’s going to play on, and the first question he asked was, “Does this team win?” That kind of scared me. It just reminds me so much of me. And Sundance is a worker. They all are. They’re super physical and really coordinated. But lately, the kids have been playing family with their stuffed animals and superheroes, and they have a mommy and daddy and big brothers and little sisters. It’s really sweet.

How are the kids involved in your volleyball training?

Today I had all three kids with me in the Pilates studio. The boys were going crazy on the big plyo balls, and Scout was running around touching everything. That’s not normal, but it happens from time to time. Certainly when we train on the weekends or when we’re at the beach competing, they come, and they’re involved. My husband and I like to bring them to the gym once in a while just so they see us working hard, and they know what we do. They’re part of our team, so we like them to stay informed.

What do you want your kids to learn from your athlete lifestyle?

Just the joy of using your body and being fit and healthy, and that it’s a privilege to do all these things. My husband [Casey Jennings, who also plays beach volleyball for Team USA] and I truly love what we do, and we hope that they see that. I certainly want them to learn how to win and lose with integrity and grace. That’s hard for me even these days. I hate losing, and I don’t handle it very well, but I want them to learn from me. We just had our parent-teacher conference, and the teacher said that when Joey gets to choose work, he always goes for the easiest thing, because he likes to be great at it. So I told him when I got home from China that we got fifth place in a tournament and that I was so excited because in losing, I was going to have to work harder and get so much better. It’s okay not to be great right away, and he’s slowly getting that. Now if he picks something more difficult to do at home, he wants recognition, and that’s something that we’re so proud to give, so we’re planting seeds with whatever we do.

How do you cope with being away from your kids and husband for long periods of training or competition?

It’s the worst thing ever. I just got back from two weeks in China, and it felt like two months. We take the good with the bad with our job, and that’s certainly the worst part of our jobs when we have to leave our family. That being said, when I travel and my husband is home, I know that the kids are in the best hands possible. We Skype and Facetime and take advantage of technology, but sometimes I feel selfish because it kind of trips up the kids.

What’s one thing that you do with the kids no matter what, even if you’re away from them?

Something that we always do when we’re traveling is send a video to the kids. So for me in China, I would send a video before I went to bed, and the kids would wake up and have the video to see. And then my husband would return the favor and send me stuff. It’s the little things that keep us connected. We really want the kids to understand that travel is part of our job, and sometimes mommy and daddy are going to have to leave, but it doesn’t mean that we’re inaccessible or that we don’t think about them all the time, regardless of where we are.

What’s the worst part about being an athlete mommy? 

Time. Time is so elusive. I feel like if I added 12 more hours to every day, it still wouldn’t be enough. I love working, and I love being a mommy, but combining both is really challenging, because when the kids are done with school, I want to be with them, and sometimes it’s really hard to get all my stuff done before I pick them up. I feel like I’m so busy that it interferes with my mommy time, but that’s okay. I like that the kids know to get your obligations down and to take care of what’s most important.

And what’s the best?

Everything. I love being a mommy so much, and I feel like I’m truly living my dream life. I’m a working mommy, I have a beautiful family, my kids are amazing, my husband is absolutely amazing, and I’m a chasing a fourth gold medal in Rio doing something that I’ve loved since I was 10 years old. I don’t care how hard it is or how many obstacles there are. I know how blessed I am.

Speaking of Rio, what can we expect from you?

The goal is to absolutely win a gold medal and to play the best volleyball that I’ve ever played in my whole career. My partner, April, and I want to be best the team in the world.

Your social media accounts emanate all good vibes, all the time. Where is your positivity rooted, and what role does it play in your athletic and parenting pursuits?

My parents are very positive, optimistic people, and my family has a lot of faith. There’s a lot of hope when you have faith. That’s the lens I look through life with. There’s good in every situation, even if you don’t understand what it is at that current time. Mindset is such an important part of life. So often, we want things to be easy, and when things get uncomfortable, we tend to not relish the challenge; we tend to be overwhelmed by it. I have a mindset where I can say, “I got this. It’s going to be hard, but who cares, because it’s going to make me stronger,” instead of “Oh my gosh, this is going to be so hard. It’s daunting. What am I going to do?” My sports psychologist said that the only true confidence comes from yourself, so I try to set that tone every day in my house and in my career – to be very positive and to focus on the possibilities and not on the challenges.

What’s your favorite thing to do with the kids?

My favorite thing is just to be at home with them doing nothing. We travel so much, so our kids really love being home. I really cherish when there’s music on in the house, and we’re running around and having fun and not really doing anything.

What’s the most hilarious things that your kids do?

They all love to dance and be really silly, and we love to encourage that, but sometimes it’s just the things that come out of their mouths. For some reason, every time Sundance sees me, or every time I send a video, he says, “Mommy, you’re beautiful.” And then he goes, “Does that make you happy, mommy?” And then Joey will want to outdo him and make me feel even happier, and say something like “Your green eyes are the most beautiful, mom.”

Final thoughts?

Everyone who reads Parents magazine knows that it takes a village, and I have an amazing village of support around me. It’s my family, friends, trainers, and partners who help me to chase my dream and show my kids that dreams come true, and I’m really grateful for that.

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