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Where are we going?.....seeing the big picture in youth sports.

While at the gym watching my son’s basketball game this weekend, I saw a coach scream at a player. Every parent in the stands cringed. It reminded me that as parents and coaches we are modeling for our kids what it means to be an adult. We’re showing our kids how to act when they don’t like what someone is doing. We’re showing our kids how to respond when someone makes a mistake. We’re showing our kids whether to place more value on the process or on the final score. For better or worse, we are always modeling for our kids. Who do we want to show them?

They’ll be adults before we know it

I know it’s cliched, but I’m blown away by how quickly my kids are growing up. It seems like only yesterday that I was changing diapers, and now we’re only a couple of years away from my daughter driving! Our job as parents is to do what we can to provide the best possible conditions for our young people to thrive and develop into incredible human beings. They learn how to be in the world by watching the people around them. Thinking about the big picture of who we hope they’ll become can really help us to be more intentional with our parenting.

Who do you hope they’ll be when they’re grown?

If our ultimate goal is to raise amazing adults, let’s really clarify what we mean by that. I’d like you to close your eyes (finish reading this paragraph first!) and imagine your child as an adult. Picture them at their job or with their loved ones. Maybe they’re even playing sports with their friends. Envision the person you hope they will become. What do you see? What kind of person are they? How do they interact with the people around them?

Now think about the qualities you hope they will have. Grab a piece of paper and make a list. I’ll wait.

When my kids are adults I hope they’ll be…..

When I do this exercise in my parenting class, these are the types of responses I usually get:

  • Resilient (able to bounce back from failure)

  • Courageous

  • Respectful

  • Self-motivated

  • Responsible

  • Confident

  • Able to manage their emotions

  • Ethical

  • Good decision makers

  • Considerate

  • Empathetic

Obviously this is just the beginning of a long list, but you get the idea.

How can they “be” it if they’ve never “seen” it?

Here’s the catch: our kids can only become “this” if they’ve seen and experienced these qualities in action. How can a child know how to regulate their emotions if they’ve never seen anyone do it- if all they’ve ever seen is people blowing their top at the slightest provocation? How can they learn respect if they have never been treated with respect? How can they learn to manage setbacks gracefully if the people around them freak out over a loss or a blown call? Our young people are always watching and learning from us.

Habit 2 in Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the End in Mind”. If we know where we’re going, it’s much easier to course-correct and stay closer to our path. This list is our "end in mind".

Successful in life, successful in sport.

The qualities we hope they’ll have as adults will help them to be happier and more successful in all areas of their lives. Great human beings make great employees and entrepreneurs; they make great spouses and parents and friends. They also make tremendous athletes and teammates. What coach doesn’t want motivated, resilient, courageous athletes who can manage their emotions? While supporting their growth as people, we’re supporting their growth as athletes and vice versa.

Are our actions taking us toward or away from our "end in mind"?

Having our kids copy our actions can also work against us. We don’t always behave in ways we’re proud of. Sometimes we don’t even realize that what we’re doing is sending the exact opposite message from the one we hope to convey. When we criticize our child for making a mistake, we’re not exactly modeling being supportive. We’re also sending a message that mistakes are bad and something to be avoided at all costs. When we micromanage our kids and yell instructions across the court, we’re not modeling trust. Instead, we’re letting them know that we care more about them getting it “right” than learning to make their own decisions.

Being our best selves, so our kids can be theirs.

Whether you have a shorter term goal of enhancing your child’s sporting career,or a longer term goal of contributing to their well-being and success in life, you’re in luck! You get to do the exact same thing. Keep the big picture in mind and see how well you can model those qualities you hope they’ll acquire. Let them see how a healthy adult treats someone who they don’t agree with. Let them experience what it feels like to be treated with respect. Show them how to be trustworthy, and kind, and courageous. Show them how to lose with dignity and learn from the experience. This is the challenge. This is our work. Maybe, just maybe, this parenting journey can help us be our best selves as we’re supporting our children to be theirs.