Guys, sports, and parenting series #9
The number of times teams get caught with too many men on the field seems, well, too many. Is it that we only have 10 fingers, and teams have 11 players that makes it tough to keep track at times? It was rare, but even Coach Baker in the chaos of injuries and changing plans got caught with too many players. The excitement of everything going on and what he wanted to achieve meant that he thought he was doing the right thing when the whistle would blow, and we got penalized. I know he didn’t like it when he made a dumb mistake like forgetting to count.
We as parents sometimes make the exact same mistake of allowing too many players on the field and this can have disastrous consequences. In football it looks like the parent who is coaching from the sidelines, questioning the coach’s decisions about their child’s playing time, and at times challenging the coach. At school it looks like the parent who is finishing the 3rd grade science project for their child so it looks better. It can even look like a teacher who helps first graders with their art project so that the parents will be more impressed. Somehow we think we are doing the right thing and we don’t realize that there is a penalty for too many players on the field and the person who pays the penalty is usually the child.
The person being developed by sports is the kid, not the parent. That means the kid needs to learn to address the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of the game. Those challenges are faced in practice, in games, and in some ways off the field. To use an extreme example, I would have scored many more touchdowns in 7th grade as a running back if my dad had dashed into the game when I got the ball, picked me up, and ran down the field with me. He was bigger, faster, and stronger. Yet he knew this would have been damaging, handicapping, and ludicrous. I would have never developed my own physical skills. Yet some parents do this very same thing mentally and emotionally.
Next my dad knew that the earlier I learned to deal with getting knocked down, the better I would become at getting back up, and the less damage I would experience in my life. To learn to pick yourself up off the ground after getting totaled by some huge defensive player and get back in the game builds endurance. To have dad and mom whine that the other players are too big, reduces our mental toughness. To get out there and try harder after coach provides some much needed correction can build perseverance which has been shown to be an important component of success. (Credé, 2016)
The younger we allow our kids to face challenges on their own and possibly fail, the less serious the consequences are. As stated earlier, I have seen parents complete third grade science projects for their kids. I have seen teachers assist first graders in their art so that parents will be impressed. In both of these cases it was not the adult teaching a skill and letting the student try it, it was the adult doing the work. STOP IT!
What are the consequences of a poor third grade science project? What are the consequences of letting parents see where their kid really is in art? Over time the student will learn more about their own skills, the skills they need, about planning their time, about taking care of responsibility, and about talking to their teacher on how to do better. And what about the consequences of the student’s less than perfect project? No one will ever remember your child did poorly on their third grade science project or drew an unrecognizable pumpkin. The earlier parents allow their kids to face challenges on their own, the more practice kids get in failing and succeeding and knowing how to handle both.
What happens when parents have come to their child’s rescue until they leave for college or start a career? The young adult can fail miserably because they have had very little practice dealing with issues on their own and persevering through challenges, and the consequences of failure at college or in a career are huge compared to a third grade science project! Every kid should arrive at their first job after high school, or their first year of college with at least 12 years of learning about facing and solving challenges without mom or dad rescuing them.
Every good coach knows once the game begins you stay off the field and let the players perform. Every parent needs to know when to stay out of the game of life and help their kids develop their own skills, recognize and fix their own mistakes, address their own challenges, and handle their own situations. School and sports are a great place to start. Remember what coach screamed at you in the pregame pep talk. “You are the ones who have to put on the pads. You are the ones who have to be tougher than the guy across from you. You are the ones who have to pick yourself up when you get knocked down and get back in the game, and YOU ARE THE ONES WHO WIN THE DAY! NOW GO GET UM!” Memorize that speech Coach!
Credé, M., M. C. Tynan and P. D. Harms (2016), “Much ado about grit: A meta-analytic synthesis of the grit literature”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, June 2016, DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000102.