Let me explain. I was a network administrator. Sounds much more glamorous than it was. I basically worked for 10 hours straight through the night printing reports, changing out tapes and monitoring multiple screens to make sure nothing went down.
Never quite feeling completely awake and rarely being fully asleep, led to a zombie like state that could make fathering difficult. It also gave me three days a week off and I could do stuff with my kids during the day.
After a long night of work I was reminded that my 8-year-old daughter, Abigail, was signed up for soccer at the local YMCA. Taking her to her first soccer practice sounded like something I could do even with most of my brain already at rest.
I’m not sure how it happened, but an easy trip where I got to watch my kid be coached turned into me coaching… the entire team… for the whole season.
What I learned during that one season of non-competitive, community children's soccer, with teams coached by any warm body, rivaled what years of high school sports had taught me
In high school I suffered from a common ailment known as insecurity. Anxiety joined me on the field. As a starting defender on a large undefeated lacrosse team, I can now look back and say that I was good at it. At the time, I mostly felt like I should do better and wasn't quite sure I was ever good enough.
1. Your child's value is never in question regardless of the number of trophies they have.
Coaching kids in soccer taught me they had value before the game ever started. Their value didn't decrease or increase based on performance. Stress, anxiety, performance pressure, and ability comparison is not even a requirement to be excellent at sports. Hinting they will somehow be less of a person in my eyes if they don't out perform others creates “better” results . . . for a time. Like kids who are forced to practice piano, they often do get “better” momentarily. However, when coercive measures are not present, many never touch the instrument again wanting to avoid the unpleasantness associated with it.
2. Find a reason to celebrate your child regularly. (Actually celebrate THEM, not just their performance on the field.)
Modeling joy and celebrating participation naturally leads to great performance without manipulation or condescension. As a young man I unfortunately learned to withhold celebrating myself and others. In fact, I developed a fear of celebrating today's accomplishments. I became dependent on negative motivators that told me that being content or happy with myself and others would take away the passion needed to win. Don't believe this lie. Celebrate often. Celebrate them. Let them celebrate you. Let the simple joy of sports be the awesome motivator it is.
3. Model celebrating and learning from others, even if they are on the other team.
Let them be good at enjoying playing the sport. There are around 8 billion people in the world. If you require your child to be the “best” at anything they only have a 0.00…1% chance of living up to your expectations. (No, I didn't really do the math.) It wasn't until I was well into my adult life that I could actually appreciate the abilities of others. When I was younger I resented anyone with talent because I was supposed to be the “best.” Give your child permission to not be the “best.” You could even give them permission to celebrate others, even those on the other team. Believe it or not, this will not only make them a better person, but will help them learn new skills in their chosen sport. It helps to make them teachable.
4. Help your child discover and pursue THEIR passions. (When they want to play a position or sport different than what you want for them, build their confidence by letting them be right about their choice.)
The team I coached was a children's community league where everyone got to try every position. I once had a parent explain to me that his daughter was more of a forward than a defender and that I should put her in the game more often. He was basically telling me how much better she was than the other kids. This is a common assumption of insecure parents. I gently went to his daughter, knelt down and asked her if she would like to play. As I had suspected, she didn't even want to play. As fathers we can often be so overly concerned with our child outperforming the other kids that we lose sight of their heart, their desire. Give them permission to have passions different than yours. Let them explore sports and team positions you wouldn't have chosen for them.
5. Your child’s safety and the safety of others is always the greatest win. (This includes not just physically safety, but also emotional, mental and social well being.)
The young YMCA youth soccer gentleman that recruited volunteers such as myself, also oversaw multiple Saturday morning games. When we ended up with too few kids for our game he decided that both teams of kids would be combined and play against the adults. For safety reasons both goalies were played by adults. We gently passed the ball to each other and cheered the kids on.
Then it happened. That young man almost lost his life! I’m 6’4” and came very close to showing him my full contact skills. He thought all the kids were out of the way and decided to treat this as a professional game. Kicking the ball as hard as he could toward the adult goalie he nailed my daughter, Abigail, knocking her to the ground and completely knocking the wind out of her. She lay on the grass in pain and panicking to breath. I made a split second decision between introducing my recruiter to a combat sport and holding my girl.
Safety first. Be more concerned about your child's safety than their performance. Not just physically, but emotionally and socially as well. You could even demonstrate being concerned with the welfare of others over “winning.” It may seem simple to you, but for me on that field that day it was a huge “win” to keep my cool and accept that young man’s heart felt apology. He truly didn't see my daughter. He really did feel bad about hurting her. His safety was important too. Verbal and/or physical violence would have done no good. As their coach it would have only modeled really bad behavior.
Sports are a wonderful way for fathers to celebrate who their children are regardless of their skill level. It is a great environment for fathers to give their children permission to communicate THEIR heart and pursue THEIR passions. Sports are the ideal place for fathers to demonstrate that their child's safety and the safety of others is always a “win.”
And lastly, it is within the context of sports that fathers have one of the best opportunities to demonstrate the power of being kind. As a friend recently told me, “it is nice to be important, but it is even more important to be nice.”
(Raymond) Dirk Rowe is an Outreach Chaplain at Victory Mission & Ministry in Springfield, Missouri. He had the honor of hosting the first Good Dads class at Victory Mission and has greatly enjoyed seeing this amazing opportunity grow into multiple classes around Springfield.
How many of you are like me? While growing up you played as many sports as you could—baseball, basketball, football, and even soccer (VERY little)! I was NOT the best athlete. There were many of my teammates who did a much better job than I ever did. But I tried hard and hoped my coaches thought I did my best.
Now you are all grown up and your children have grown to an age they are ready to start playing organized sports. How are you going to handle it? Are you worried about being the "loud" parent, the "expert" parent, or the "complaining" parent?
When our children start playing sports, we tend to put on the blinders. We, as parents, are tempted to see our child as the next Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, or even Nolan Ryan. "Our kid is the next superstar!"
They might be, but they are only five! So, let's consider the practical development of our child's athletic abilities first before we get them a major-league contract.
We observed our precious, little, glasses-wearing, curly-haired blondie waiting for the ball to be freed from the clutches of the mob and have a chance to give it a big kick. Every once in a while, the ball bounced out and Maddy ran after it, only to be overtaken by the mob once again. Then Maddy assumed her position of trailing the mob in hopes of another chance.
Yes! I, the father, was the one questioning the involvement of my oldest daughter in organized sports. But, to no avail. My wife's persistence won out and Emily started soccer. Looking back on those early years, it was fine. Actually, it was more than fine, it was great! Organized sports was a great opportunity for our girls to learn about cooperation, sportsmanship, and having fun with teammates
I'm not going to say we are perfect. We have made mistakes, but like so many before, we tried to learn from those mistakes . . . Kari and I did so many "right" things with our first two girls. Even the things we got wrong, we tried to fix and perfect. So, when our third, Olivia came along we thought, "We’ve got this!"
Olivia is four years younger than Maddy. Since the day she was born, she was toted from soccer game to soccer game and every single event of her two older sisters. When Olivia was old enough to play soccer, why wouldn't she play?
So, there we have it! Three unique individuals, pursuing three unique sports. Emily stayed with soccer up to the age of 10, and then found her heart pulling her towards cross country and track and field. Now each of our girls pursues what interests them.—Emily with running, Maddie kicking the soccer ball, and Olivia flipping head over heels in gymnastics.
When our children get involved in organized sports, we want them to do well. We want them to succeed. We want them to be the best. But the reality of life, not everyone can be the best.
Josh Wanner is the father of three girls. He and His wife, Kari, live in Springfield, MO where he works as the Technology Director for Redeemer Lutheran Church and Springfield Lutheran School. He can be reached for question or comment at email@example.com
“In what areas of life do you find yourself most competitive? At work? In athletic activities? In card or board games? Debating controversial topics? “
That’s what the men at this week’s Good Dads lunch talked about around the tables on Tuesday. It was a lively discussion. We had just listened to Coach Dave Steckel, Missouri State head football coach, talk about the important qualities required for successful athletes. He emphasized the importance of A, B, C and D – attitude, behavior, care (as in caring about what we do), and discipline. These things, he said, were important to being a good competitor.
But Coach Steckel also said he thought children should not be introduced to organized sports at too early of an age. The experts agree. “Stec,” as he is also called, emphasized the importance of participating in more than one activity, being a well-rounded athlete.
So where does that leave us with competition? When and how early should a child be introduced to competitive activities? Is there a danger in starting too soon? How do you guide a naturally aggressive child who focuses on winning early and often? What about the child who enjoys playing with others, but demonstrates little concern for winning?
Competition does have its pros and cons. It can motivate people to try harder and do better. It offers an opportunity for children to learn to win and lose gracefully. It is “real life” in that we don’t always win or get what we want.
On the down side, too much competition can promote anxiety and damage self-esteem. It can encourage counter-productive activities like cheating or a lack of teamwork. Too great a focus on competition can also be a distraction,for example, a child worries so much about what she is doing she has difficulty being “in the zone” of the game. Experts are most concerned that many children, by junior high age, resist participation in a activity because they don’t see themselves as good enough, i.e., if they can’t have a reasonable chance of winning, they prefer not to engage. This is not good news for the rising trend in obesity and an obsession with "screen time."
Relative to competition, cooperation is held in much higher regard by many. Experts say cooperation brings out the best in us, e.g., higher salaries, higher grades, greater creativity and increased self-esteem. Participants in an activity that requires cooperation also express a better sense of community, belonging and acceptance. They feel more in control of their lives and less dependent on the approval of others.
On the down side, too much cooperation can result in “group-think,” the “yes-man syndrome,” or misplaced conformity. We need leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. We need people who know how to get along with others, but aren’t afraid to stick up for novel or unpopular ideas.
So how do we help children learn to compete and cooperate? Consider the following:
Focus on doing well. Coach Steckel said it. I recall my father saying it. I’m thinking every good coach says it. The best players learn to compete against themselves, paying attention to how to improve their own ability, as opposed to just beating an opponent.
Notice excellence in others. Help your child notice the good efforts of others and comment encouragingly. When you teach them to observe excellence in team members and say positive things, you reinforce the importance of working together, celebrating the abilities of all.
Reinforce team effort. Comment positively on the ways and times in which your child works well with others to achieve a shared goal, in athletic activities and other projects. This will help your child avoid thinking he is the center of his own little universe.
It turns out that children from about 3rd or 4th grade up tend to enjoy activities most that require cooperation and competition. They benefit from working as a team to achieve a common goal. They like to play a part in helping their group be successful. It's not an "either or" situation, but rather the right combination of both with a greater focus on collaboration and cooperation the younger the child.
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When my boys were small they took up the sport of hockey. This was hard for me. I knew nothing about hockey. To me, hockey was for thugs who had got kicked out of figure skating class.
I was not alone in my perception. Many people close to me were curious about my enrolling my children in a sport known for aggression and fighting. Why not soccer, or basketball, or football?
We are all responsible for the image we portray. If the game of hockey is known for aggression and fighting, then hockey is responsible for its image. I am learning, however, that hockey is not the only place where aggression and fighting break out. Look around you. The changes in our lives breed anxiety; anxiety breeds anger; and anger vents itself in aggression and fighting. This takes place in all kinds of places from hockey rinks to church meetings, the dinner table, and wherever people do not get their way.
If we want our children to be able to navigate change and transitions with grace and dignity, it is imperative that we learn to handle change and transitions with grace and dignity, too. We all can learn to relax, lighten up, and settle down. We must teach our children that they will not always be on the starting team or in first chair in the orchestra. Classes will drop at the worst times. Professors do make mistakes and some coaches are jerks. We must teach our children that change happens – and they can handle it!
In 2007, the National Hockey League initiated the “It’s Just a Game” Campaign. The campaign was designed to teach the hockey world that hockey is “just a game.” The National Hockey League was committed to changing its image. Hockey is not about aggression and fighting. Hockey is about teamwork, skill, and sportsmanship.
In 30-second television ads children and others were portrayed in everyday situations, but acting like a “perceived” hockey player.” Fights would break out in absurd situations. The ad then concluded, “It’s just a game.” In other words, “Relax. Lighten up. Settle down.”
In one campaign, a policeman pulls a man over for a traffic violation. The man’s 12-year-old son starts yelling, “This call stinks, you moron! Are you kidding me? Where are your glasses!!” The boy then starts yelling at the Dad, “Are you going to take this Dad? Stand up for yourself.” The campaign ends, “It’s just a game.” Clearly, bad behavior is ridiculous at hockey games and everywhere else. [cf.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxduazZp7bo].
My boys loved hockey. They were never in a fight. They learned life lessons of teamwork, sportsmanship, and respect for authority.
Our children will face many changes in life – especially as they head back to school. As dads, we can help our children face these changes with grace and dignity. We want our children to know that change does happen and they can handle it!
Jeff Sippy, a Dad-In-Training, is the father of three young men and the husband of Cindy. He enjoys sailing every chance that he gets. He is the senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Springfield, MO and can be reached for question or comment at email@example.com
I see my children as growing up in a hyper-competitive society: little leagues starting kids out at 2-years-old, and gymnastics for toddlers still in diapers. But of course! How else will [my kids] get to Olympic Gold level performance or get a full ride athletic scholarship to a Big 10 school? At times it feels like I'm a failure as a Dad because none of my kids are playing even one sport presently, much less whatever sport happens to be in season.
Full disclosure: I am not good at sports, which may be one reason why my kids aren’t interesting in playing any sports. That’s not to say I don’t try to play on occasion. But as you may have guessed, I’ve had plenty of practice at being a gracious loser.
One thing I do enjoy about sports is good sportsmanship. It’s a worthwhile discipline for children and adults to practice frequently. With three kids at home (age 9 twin boys and a 5-year-old girl), there are plenty of chances to teach them how to let go of the need to “win” all the time. On the many occasions I don’t win, I have two choices: I can sulk and pout, or I smile with admiration for the person or team who beats me in spite of my best efforts and congratulate them on a job well done. Call it an exercise in humility, I try to use my losses as a teaching tool so my kids see how to value other peoples’ achievements as well as their own.
Being able to let someone else stand in the victor’s circle and still being happy for that person keeps our focus on what’s most important: the joy in the activity in which we’ve chosen to participate.
I am good at some things apart from sports, so occasionally I experience what winning feels like. Sometimes it feels so good that it’s tempting to brag or trash talk my opponents. This is poor sportsmanship just as much as being a sore loser!
One of my sons and my daughter are studying martial arts, and they enjoy it thoroughly. Part of their study involving mock combat called sparring matches. For those of you who remember the original 1980’s movie The Karate Kid there was a sparring competition in which only one person could be victorious. For the “bad guy” nothing shy of absolute victory was good enough. Second place was beneath him. He had to win at all cost, even going so far as cheating to assure victory.
My kids’ martial arts studio doesn’t work that way. While these kinds of single elimination competitions still exist, I’m glad to see my kids discovering that martial arts are worth studying for what they learn about themselves and other people, apart from receiving a trophy. I’ve seen them act calmly and with a contented spirit when they win a sparring match. The instructors always insist that the winners high-five and congratulate the students who get defeated.
Coaching the Team
Dads wear many hats. One of those hats says, “Coach,” and our job is to mentor, guide, correct, and direct our kids whether they win or lose. Even if you’re like me and lucky to sink one free throw out of four, no matter what happens, we must coach our kids to be gracious people.
I will certainly be proud to see my kids earn their black belts in Tae Kwon Do. More important, though, is I want to see that they enjoyed their time spent achieving that level of performance, regardless of whether they defeat everyone else on the first round or if it takes them an extra year’s worth of lessons and training.
Sid Whiting is the father of three and the husband of one. He lives with his wife Gail and their children in Springfield, Missouri. He also enjoys real estate investing, serving in the 135th Army Band as a percussionist and bass guitarist, and plays in the Praise Band "Soul Purpose" and the "Hallelujah Bells" hand bell choir. He can be reached for comment or question at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WiseSteward).