As many of you know, I was on vacation last week. That break gave me some time to catch up on a lot of email and articles, and during my time off, one parenting column in particular – written by a parenting reporter from CNN, Kelly Wallace — caught my eye.
The column’s headline was: Why Is it So Hard to Let Our Kids Fail?
Wallace was writing about all different aspects of kids growing up and competing in school, theatre, music, and so on. And competing in sports was most definitely in the mix as well.
She was asking why do so many of us – sports parents included – simply don’t allow our kids to go out, try, compete, and if they fail, well, they’ll simply have to learn and cope with the sometimes harsh realities of life. In many ways, it’s what many of us sports parents went through and experienced when we were growing up.
Her overriding point, of course, is that kids learning what they are NOT good at is just as important as finding out what they DO have talent for, and what activities they enjoy. Those experiences, as one of my WFAN Radio listeners today called: “Those activities that put a smile on your child’s face.”
But as we all know, the problem is that parents today tend to rush in and do whatever they can to insure that their little one DOES succeed in their athletic pursuits, regardless of what kind of implications that kind of parental interference may have.
This is, of course, the essence and core of the meddling sports parent. Perhaps that’s where the problem begins with today’s Mom and Dads, all of whom want their sons and daughters to play sports well and to excel. But when Mom and Dad sense that their kid is struggling, or shows signs of just being average, then Mom and Dad will start to intervene any way they can to make sure their kid improves.
The CNN column by Kelly Wallace suggests that parents take a different approach – that it’s okay if your kid is struggling or not doing well. In effect, that it’s part of the natural process of growing up for a kid to come to grips with the fact that he or she is not going to be a great athlete – and that’s okay. Or if they want to develop their mastery of athletic skills, then it’s up to the youngster – not the parent – to do what it takes to get better.
WHOSE DREAM IS IT?
After all, every Mom and Dad wants their youngster to excel in life, whether it be sports, academics, or in other endeavors. That’s what parents dream about, and hope for. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But when the reality quietly sinks in that my child is not going to be a star athlete, that’s where Moms and Dads often find themselves becoming over-involved. They seem to have the sense that if my kid is underachieving, I need to get them a special skills coach, or a private coach, or get them on a better travel team, then they’ll begin to live up to expectations. In short, more often than not in our competitive youth sports world, this is the typical knee-jerk reaction from the parents.
But are we doing our children a disservice by jumping in and doing these kinds of things? Would they be better off if we simply left them alone, and if they don’t get better in a sport, well, that’s okay. Their world — nor ours — won’t come to an end.
Or, if the kids do want to get better, they will find their own pathway to improve their skills. After all, isn’t that what we did growing up, back in the day before parents were so involved in kids’ sports?
As Kelly Wallace writes: There is no question that one of the most difficult things about being a parent is letting our children stumble, fail, make mistakes. From her perspective, making mistakes and failing is all part of maturing as kids.
But does that approach work with kids and sports? That is, at some point, especially at the youth level where kids are first learning the basic skills of a sport, they DO need to be coached and taught. I do feel that any youngster just starting out in sports needs the benefit of some solid coaching on the basics, everything from the rules of the game to learning how to develop individual skills that will help their appreciation of the sport.
Yet to me, the key difference is that it’s always much, much better if the youngster comes to the coach or to you, their parent, and asks to help them with their soccer dribbling, or fielding in baseball, or in shooting a basketball. If they have the inherent drive and motivation to come to you to improve their game, then it’s fine for you to help out. Why? Because it’s the CHILD who is showing the desire to get better – NOT the PARENT dictating to the child. And to me, that’s a big difference.
Several of the callers brought up this theme this morning on the radio show, and I couldn’t agree with them more. Too many parents take the attitude with their youngster with: “Hey, don’t you want to get better in sports? Don’t you want to be as good as your friends?” As you might imagine, that kind of negative motivation does not work, and yet too many parents think it’s an appropriate kind of statement.
Bottom line? Yes, especially when kids are just starting out in sports (up to age 9), it’s perfectly fine to let them explore all sorts of sports, and see which of them appeal to them. And if they enjoy a sport or two, chances are they will want to come back to it, over and over again, and at some point, will come to you for some coaching tips.
That’s the best solution. Because the initiative is coming from your child – not from you the parent.