If your child plays youth sports, how does he “define” himself?
If you were to ask him to define who he is, what would he say?
I’m a tennis player. I like Roger Federer. I hate school. And I won two matches last week!
I think it’s pretty normal for young kids to define themselves with what they do, what they like and don’t like.
But what happens when they get older? Will they still be defining themselves by what they do? Or will they start to see that their definition as a person is who they are, not what they do.
Define or describe?
Your job is to help them see the difference between defining and describing.
We all tend to define ourselves by what we do or have or where we live as a way of helping others understand us. But actually what we are doing is giving a description of ourselves. A description is when a person gives a visual picture or an account of something.
Defining ourselves actually goes much deeper. A definition explains the meaning or significance of a word and so when we define ourselves we are saying what gives us meaning or makes us significant.
And this is where we need to be sure that our kids are feeling that their significance and their meaning does not come from sports. From the home runs, the touchdowns, the newspaper clippings. Of course sports can be important and fun, and inspire dreams and create wonderful memories, but your child’s significance should not be based on it.
Describing ourelves focuses on external things; defining ourselves focuses on internal. Therefore, sports can describe your child, but it should not define him.
A college athlete’s wise words
My son is entering his senior year in college, his final year of playing football. It’s not been an easy journey for him. The fight has been tough and the playing time rewards have been sparce. But he has not given up, and through it all he has grown into a strong, mature young man.
This fall, his little sister is transferring to his college for her sophomore year, to play volleyball and in one of their brother/sister talks, he told her, “You will learn that being an athlete should not define who you are.”
It was a new way of thinking to a girl who’d always prided herself on her athletic ability and status. But you know, my son has got it right.
If your athlete defines himself only by his athleticism, then he is basing his self-esteem on his performance. What happens when he has a bad game or season or doesn’t get to play much? What happens when he no longer plays sports?
Who will he be then?
A true definition is based on character
If we start teaching our kids when they are young, that we love them for who they are, not what they do or how they perform, then we are nurturing in them a true, healthy personal definition. As we praise effort and character growth instead of performance, we build in them an understanding that allows them to define themselves by something deeper than their athletic or musical or artistic–or whatever it is they do–ability.
Learning a new definition
I am hoping that as my daughter goes off for her sophomore year of college and college volleyball, she will fully accept the difference between defining and describing herself. I’m praying she will understand that her worth (her definition) is not based on her athletic accomplishments. We have tried to instill that concept in her, but sometimes kids just have to learn it on their own before it really sinks in.
Have you been helping your child see the difference between who he is (definition) and what he does (description)? Have you been expressing your love and support based on who he is, not how he performs? Have you only been rewarding him for things he has achieved and not just because of the fact that you love him?
If you’ve been showing love to your child with no strings attached–apart from his performance–you are fostering in him a healthy self-definition that will lay the foundation for a healthy self-image for life.
If your child is defining himself by his sports abilities, it’s not too late for you and your child to learn together a new definition of who he is.