When our kids are small, we as parents are there to love, guide and protect, with an emphasis on protect. It’s a parental instinct,the urge to keep our kids from harm and hurt. And it’s a good thing for us to do–for a while.
As children grow, we give them more responsibilities, more privileges. They learn to drive, do their own laundry, keep up with their homework. We proudly watch them grow up, and even though we may think we are “letting go,” there is still that last apron string that we just can’t seem to cut. In an effort to continue protecting, we do not let them fight their own battles.
Hang around a gymnasium, a soccer field, a football field, a baseball or softball diamond–you will see this apron string securely knotted whether it’s a fight for playing time, a conflict with a coach, or dealing with a trash-talking teammate, parents step in to do battle, not realizing that their actions are actually hurting their kids more than helping them.
On many occasions it’s taken all the self-control I can muster not to step in with my guns blazing. But I am not doing my children any favors when I fight their battles for them. No, the reverse it true. I am hindering them from growing in their independence when I do not teach them to fight for themselves.
1. Start by being a diligent listener. When you’re kids are ready to tell you about their struggles, listen more than you speak. When my kids get in the car after practice the last thing they want is to answer a bunch of questions about practice. So one simple question about “how was your day” suffices until they are ready to talk. And once they begin talking, let them express their feelings without parental judgment.
2. Teach them to how to confront if it is needed. Discuss with them how they can approach the coach with a problem. My husband has coached for over 25 years and he explains that there are good and bad ways to confront a coach.
Bad: “How come I’m not playing more? I’m better than Joe or Susie!”
Or, “Coach, how come I’m not playing? Coach, how come I’m not playing? Coach, how come I’m not playing?” Coaches do not like to be pestered!
Good “What do I have to do to get on your radar?”
Or “What do I have to do to get on the court/field more?”
This approach puts the responsibility on the athlete to improve and fight for his time and does not sound accusatory to the coach.
3. Prepare them for a long fight. Kids want to have everything NOW, including immediate victory and resolution to problems. But some battles cannot be won overnight; they may even be season-long. When our kids were discouraged about their playing time or their performance, we told them to keep fighting and continue working hard. I’d like to say that their persistence was always rewarded, but unfortunately not all sports seasons have happy endings. I’ve seen my volleyball-playing daughter win the battle for starting libero by mid-season and I’ve seen my son struggle until the very last game with a basketball coach he could never seem to please. In both cases, our kids fought their own battle every step of the way, with my husband and I cheering from the sidelines.
Since our children were small, we’ve taught them how to fight their own battles. And now we are reaping the rewards as we see our two college athletes–one a senior softball player and one a freshman football player–continuing to stand strong in conflict.
Let them go, let them fight. Because long after the balls and bats and hoops start to gather dust in the garage, the life lessons your athletes learned as they fought their battles on the court and field will prepare them just a little bit more for the battles of life that lay ahead.