Guys, sports, and parenting series #6

Coach Baker was always more interested in what we did when we lost than what we did when we won.  He was interested in both, but true winners know how to celebrate and, more importantly, know what to do when they lose.

I had the experience of playing for both a winning coach and a losing coach.   Besides having more wins and making sure he pointed out what we did right, the winning coach didn’t let us beat ourselves up over mistakes or lost games.  He worked on keeping us positive.

To him a mistake was a great opportunity to learn.  While we talked about what we did wrong, he always let us know what skills we needed to work on, showed us how to take next steps toward getting better, and made sure we incorporated those steps into practice.   He showed us how to respond to mistakes for the better.  He let us know that making mistakes and fixing them was one of the best ways to learn.

This attitude did a couple of things for coach and for us.  First, we usually knew immediately when we screwed up, but at the same time we knew those mistakes were an opportunity for getting better, and that Coach loved to help us get better.   The nice thing was that mistakes weren’t the end of the world; rather they were the key to learning how the world of football worked.  Second Coach knew that it wasn’t screaming or belittling that we needed, but it was confidence in skill building as an individual and a team.  This put us into a learning sweet spot, and Coach became our mentor and not our stressor.

What an incredible lesson for me to have in my experience.  If you played for a good coach, you likely got this lesson, and know how it can work for your kids.  Kids are going to make mistakes, and we want them to.  Research has shown that when we make mistakes in a safe environment like Coach created and learn how to correct those mistakes, we actually learn the lessons better, develop better problem solving skills, and remember what we learned longer (Mayer, 2011).

If there are adults in our kid’s life that have bad coach habits; they are screamers, or they belittle, or they prophesy that “you’ll never amount to anything”, we need to set them straight.  We need to call them out when they take the bad coach role.    We need to let the bad coach and our kids know how important mistakes are, and the opportunity mistakes provide for learning.  We might not be able to change the bad coach, but this will help our kids know the difference between a good coach and a bad coach, and help them have the confidence to make mistakes and learn to fix them.

Sometimes even teachers can miss how wonderful mistakes are.  Often they give their students the impression they are simply into the right answer rather than learning.  When a student gives the wrong answer, they’re disappointed, and when a student raises their hand and gives the right answer, they stop asking other students for their responses.  Habits like this unfortunately make our kids feel that it is only the answer, not the learning process that is important.

Teachers sometimes do the same thing with tests.  Teachers are often most interested in the students who get the right answers and spend their time praising the top scores.  Maybe they should let the kids with the top scores know they’re not being challenged enough.  Maybe they should be like coach and be more interested in how students respond when they get the wrong answer, protect them from fear and shame, and give them the confidence to see mistakes as an opportunity to get better.

Coach knew that what kids do and think when they screw up is much more important for success than what they do when they succeed.  When we become adults, many of life’s questions and challenges do not have easy answers, and we get plenty of them wrong.  We need to know how to see our mistakes as learning opportunities and how to dig in and learn from those mistakes.

We as dads are uniquely equipped to help our kids see the importance of mistakes.   When a mistake is made, our kid should learn to give us a high five and yell, “YES! An opportunity to get better!”  The next time your kid makes a mistake, remember how Coach Baker helped us be better football players through mistakes.  Keep it positive Coach!

Mayer, R. E., & Alexander, P. A. (2011). Handbook of research on learning and instruction. New York: Routledge.


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