Trying to raise strong kids? These Spartan-approved rules should help. We checked in with Joe De Sena for his wisdom and parenting tips (informed by his childhood and being a dad) to parent little Spartans like a champ.
Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena’s head spins when he’s asked to think about what he learned from his father, Ralph, a serial entrepreneur who experienced success and heartbreak in equal measure during the course of his life.
Ralph dabbled in just about every industry he could while raising his family in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, New York. He owned taxi cabs, a trucking company, and real estate properties. He even briefly ran a discotheque before losing most of his assets in the wake of the sobering stock market crash of 1987. For every anecdote Ralph had about the value of persistence and a tireless work ethic, he had another that dealt with disappointment, regret, and failure.
Joe De Sena's Parenting Tips for Spartan Moms & Dads
#1: Always Be Doing Stuff
Of all the lessons Joe De Sena gathered from watching his father’s years of toiling, there’s one in particular that stands out. On one hand, it was a simple safety tip for workers descending stairs on the construction sites throughout Queens. But on the the other, it’s a rallying cry for those born with an entrepreneurial spirit like De Sena and his dad:
Never get caught with your hands in your pockets.
“You should always be moving, doing stuff, being active, and working,” De Sena says. “Because who the hell wants to hire someone with their hands in their pockets?”
It’s a motto fitting for De Sena. It’s also a lesson he and his wife, Courtney, are trying to impart on their four children. And while it can be difficult to teach young kids about the value of setbacks and long-term success (their youngest child is 6, the oldest is 13), De Sena can easily recall learning the same lessons as a child, just by observing his own father day after day, year after year.
Ralph would often sit De Sena and his siblings down and discuss what it takes to become a successful small business owner. “Not everyone has the stomach for this,” Ralph would often say.
Conversations during their nightly family dinners also revolved around business. “Even if the conversation was about food, it was about a food business,” De Sena says with a laugh. “One hundred percent of the conversation was about getting ahead and working hard. So through osmosis, I was picking up all the knowledge I needed, even about when things failed.”
De Sena eventually parlayed that wisdom into success across multiple industries. Over the years, he launched his own companies — he sold a pool-cleaning business for half a million dollars, for instance — before trying his hand as a trader on Wall Street.
#2: Prioritize A Healthy Lifestyle, Every Day
Memories of his father’s shortcomings also still resonate with De Sena today, in particular, Ralph’s decision to ignore the value of fitness, a smart diet, and good health at his own detriment. “If you’re going to own a business like that and play at that level, you’re deciding to wrestle with lions and bears every day,” De Sena says. “That’s going to put an enormous amount of stress on your body. You can’t do anything about that stress, but what you can do is try to stay healthy, and that’s where he failed miserably.”
If De Sena has his way, that won’t happen to him or his kids. De Sena is famous for his regimen of 300 burpees every morning, and for toting a 44-pound kettlebell with him when he travels. He’s already implemented a rigorous exercise routine for his children every morning, beginning at 5:30 a.m.
Each of De Sena’s kids spends an hour working on bodyweight exercises to gain mobility and flexibility that they’ll appreciate later in life, De Sena insists. He’s also encouraging his sons to take up youth wrestling to work on strength and balance, and — in a lesson that’s something of a theme in the De Sena household — to learn the merits of failure.
“It would be awesome if they win, but I don’t care if they win. The goal is the struggle,” De Sena says of his sons’ wrestling matches. “Because life only gets harder, it doesn’t get easier.”
#3: Train Your Mind, Like You Train Your Body
De Sena has academic expectations for his kids, too, each rooted in his own deficiencies in the classroom. Despite traveling the world for his own endurance activities and to promote Spartan, De Sena has never learned a second language. And so, his kids are studying Mandarin.
And after years of struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire decisions and deals as a trader on Wall Street, De Sena now stresses the value of mathematics to his kids. “If they spend 20-30 minutes every day on those kinds of things — math and learning a second language — they’re inevitably going to have a leg up.”
#4: Face Your Obstacles, And Let Your Kids Face Theirs, Too
There’s one more key lesson in the parenting tips De Sena took from his father, this one based on the merits of hard work and persistence. When news of the college admissions bribery scandal broke recently, and dozens of parents were charged with using bribery and fraud to get their children into some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, De Sena and his wife wondered aloud with friends about the message parents send their kids by kicking the sticks out of the way on life’s path.
“You’re actually doing the kid a disservice if you do it that way,” De Sena says. “Can’t you just make your kids work harder? When you learn that life is going to punch you in the face, over and over again, and you can dust it off, you’re going to be a success. That’s what Spartan is all about, and that’s really what we have to teach our kids.”