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By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
I read an article entitled, Have our kids gotten soft? Five ways to teach them grit, by CNN’s Kelly Wallace. In it she tells stories of parents who refused to let their children fail in school, sports, even learning to ride a bike. And she lists five ways we, as parents, can help teach our children responsibility and self-reliance. And number one on the list was something so easy and so obvious, but also something my wife and I did not do with our now grown children.
What was the author’s first piece of advice to help parents raise children with some grit?
Make them make their beds.
It seems such a small thing but it makes so much sense. Having to wake up each morning and start the day with an act of discipline, responsibility, care and tidiness all wrapped up into the simple act of making a bed is a terrific way to instill positive traits into our children. Why do you think the military makes such a big deal out of it? I recommend you read her article and the inner-links as they can be eye-opening.
So this article got me thinking. My friend, mentor and father-figure for the past 25 years, Tony Arminio, would say, “They used to make wooden ships and iron men. Now they make iron ships and wooden men.” I think we’ll all agree that being a “wooden man” starts with being a “wooden child.” Here are five suggestions I have that we, as sports parents, can do to give our children more grit to face life.
Don’t talk to the coach on your child’s behalf
Who among us has not been upset at where or how much one of our children is playing on a team? And haven’t we all wanted to “have it out” with that coach and explain to him why he’s messing up? But, ironically, doing this doesn’t actually help our children in the long run, it hinders them. Some day they will need to learn the valuable lessons sports teach. If we’re constantly intervening and making everything perfect for them, they’ll never acquire the skills to make it on their own.
Don’t automatically take their side when they say they’re not being treated fairly
You know how the coach is giving others preferential treatment over your child, even though your child is clearly as good or better? You do? How do you know? Have you attended every practice and watched every game? Or are you simply taking your child’s word for it? Try asking some questions. What does he/she do better than you? Why do you think the coach would favor him/her over you? There is probably a pretty good reason the coach is “favoring” the player he is. And there are definitely two sides to the story. Unless you know firsthand what is going on, it is not your place to make a judgment.
Get them out of their comfort zone.
I’m all for “no pressure” rec sports. Not every child wants to be a high school or college athlete. Some just want to play for fun, which is exactly what recreational sports should be about. I also applaud those who coach their own children, and did so myself for many years. But if your child has never played on a team you don’t coach, he or she will be slower to gain important independence and confidence. If they’ve never been challenged, been in a little over their heads, they won’t learn as many of the valuable lessons about overcoming adversity that sports can teach. Look at your child’s current situation and ask yourself if you’re making it too comfortable. Maybe a slight adjustment will lead to a few anxious moments, but also more growth.
Make them pay for their private lessons
If your child is serious about their sports, they may want private lessons. In this day and age, many parents and kids feel it is a necessity, just so they can keep up with others. But not every family can afford these lessons and even if you can afford it, does that mean your child automatically gets everything they want? How about making your kids pay for or contribute to their lessons? If they’re in their teens they can easily get a part-time job or even do odd jobs for neighbors such as mowing lawns. If they’re younger, you can pay them to do additional chores and let them use that money to pay for their lessons. No matter the age, a child will appreciate and get more out of a lesson that he’s paid for, than one that is just taken for granted.
Don’t baby them
Finally, don’t weaken your children by coddling them. In my years of coaching I saw so much of this, and each time I knew we were raising a “wooden” child. There were parents rushing to the side of a crying child who had a little bump or scrape and asking them if they wanted to come out of the game. When I ran coaching clinics I always told my coaches that when a youngster had a minor injury, the way we approached it would be the difference between it being no big deal…or a calamity. When a couple youngsters banged into each other or a ball hit them somewhere, many coaches would ask, “Are you OK?” This leaves the door open for the child to respond like children do, with tears, ensuring they’ll be comforted and given attention. Instead, say, “You’re OK.” They are the same three words, just re-arranged. And making the statement instead of asking the question makes all the difference.
It is counter-productive to always tell your child everything he did was wonderful. Praise is great but, like everything, it can be overdone. Structuring your criticism like a sandwich, (“Here’s something you did well, here’s something that you could have done better, and here’s another thing that was good”) allows you to help your child understand that she’s not perfect, even in your eyes, which encourages them to strive to improve.
I’ve seen kids, even at the varsity high school level who had a little cold and would sit out practice. Or who had minor injuries they could have played through but instead let the team down by missing games. If you’re really hurt then you shouldn’t play, but it was pretty clear to me anyway that other kids were playing with more significant pain. This attitude all starts with parents who believe their job is to prevent their children from ever being uncomfortable, stressed, or in any pain.
Looking back, I realize that my wife and I did some, but not all of the above with our kids. Just like we want our children to work to get better, so can we, as parents, continue to improve. Raising children is the most difficult and important thing we’ll ever do. And while bringing them up to be “iron” men and women may be tougher on us, it will mean they are much happier in the long run.
What ideas or techniques have worked for you?
Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at email@example.com
By John O’Sullivan
“If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” ― John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach
As the holiday season approaches, we are often reminded to be thankful for all our blessings that we have received the past year. As we sit with our closest friends and family, and ‘give thanks’ this holiday season, we are practicing one of the key ingredients in raising a happy and high performing child: gratitude!
This holiday season is a great time to give some attention to the sports blessings that have been bestowed upon our families. Whether our child had a great sports year or a poor one, taking a few moments to review and accentuate the positive things is a great way to maintain the perspective our kids need from us to have a positive sports experience. Even if our child had a ‘bad’ year, expressing our gratitude for the things that did go well, and the lessons that were learned, can quickly and positively change our outlook on our child’s youth sports experience. How do I know this?
When I began writing my book Changing the Game, I realized that I was remiss in expressing my gratitude to my coaching mentors, to my players past and present, and to the many parents who sacrificed so much for so many years to provide sporting opportunities for their children. I was not grateful enough to my wife for the sacrifices she has made which allowed me to coach, and have a career in sports. Nor was I grateful enough to my friends and family for all their support over the years. I knew I could not write a chapter on being grateful unless I made some serious changes in my life when it came to expressing my own gratitude.
First, I needed some perspective. When we really think about it, there are so many things that we should be grateful for. We can start by being grateful that our children are healthy, happy, and have the opportunity to play sports. There are many countries around the world where our kids could not attend school or participate in athletics without the fear of being caught in some random act of violence. There are many places where our daughters’ would not even be allowed to show themselves in public, or attend school, much less participate in sports.
I also needed to be grateful that my family had the financial means to afford our children’s participation in sports and other activities. I was not thankful enough that we are able to afford the equipment, the travel, and the other necessary components of playing sports, instruments, and other activities that our children partake in. Nor was I grateful enough to my own parents, whom had sacrificed a lot to help my siblings and I get ahead in life.
Beyond this, I think it is always a good time to be grateful for the coaches, the teachers, the volunteers, and the mentors in our kid’s lives. Even if they are paid, they still do it out of love for sport, for service, and because they love helping kids. Coaching and teaching can often be thankless, and most coaches I know stick with it for the kids, and certainly not the money. An unexpected thanks at an unexpected time helps to fill coaches’ and teachers’ emotional tanks, and keeps them going through the tough times. It was high time I said thank you to my teachers and coaches, as well as to my children’s.
This gets me to my second thought, which is the importance of teaching our children how important it is to be grateful. When you express your gratitude, you also teach your kids to do the same. I remember my father teaching my siblings and I to always say thank you to our coaches and teachers as we were growing up. I never realized why until I became a coach, and realized that a small thanks tells a coach or teacher that the kids’ appreciated the time and effort that was just put in on their behalf. I am so appreciative of the players and families who have taken the time to say thank you to me over the years, as I know it helped to recharge my batteries and get me focused on the upcoming season.
As I mentioned above, I realized I needed to walk the walk here. I needed to make changes in my life, and show my kids what it meant to express gratitude. I could say it till I was blue in the face, but I knew that I needed to live it.
Since this realization, I have tried to wake up every morning and be thankful for all the amazing things in my life, for my amazing wife and beautiful kids. I have tried to be more grateful for the wonderful place I live, the friends I have, and the opportunities to work with so many wonderful families and kids. I do the same when I go to sleep at night. During the day I try to say thanks to everyone who does something for me, no matter how small. I have also asked my kids to do the same, and I have seen them making an effort.
Our family also found a way to turn our focus on gratitude at least once a day. Every night, when my family sits down for dinner, we say a family prayer, and then each of us must say at least one thing they were grateful for that day. It can be something that happened at work or school, something that a coach or teacher did, our health and our happiness, you name it. You can even say thanks for a great meal (which always pleases the chef and makes him want to cook again tomorrow!). Regardless of what we say, we turn our focus toward gratitude at the end of every day. That makes all the difference.
This holiday season, take inventory of your sports blessings, and be sure to ‘give thanks’ to the teachers, coaches, teammates and clubs that make them possible. You will be teaching your children a valuable lesson about gratitude, and you will be providing your child with an essential component of a happy, high performing athlete. Happy Holidays everyone, and thanks for reading!
John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and , and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”