Monday, July 14, 2008
Today I sat and "supervised" my son's high school team during captain's practices. Team captains gather the HS players together two or three times a week to practice in the month leading up to the beginning of the season. Robbie's team is practicing at another local high school which required an adult to be present at all times with the permit for use of the fields. Tag I'm it.
The upside of sitting on the sidelines during these practices is that I get to observe my son as a leader. This is the same son who can't remember to bring his laundry down every morning or take it back up stairs every night. This is the same son who spends four hours a day playing Halo. This is the same son who calls me from school and asks me to bring the backpack he forgot. So watching him take charge of twenty-three players overwhelmed me with both pride and wonder.
Making that passage from child to adult is never easy or guaranteed. But I do think that involvement in sports helped my children learn the lessons of cooperation, sacrifice, humility, time management, setting and achieving goals, and adapting – the very behaviors that translate to adulthood. The journey goes in fits and starts, but I got a glimpse of the finished product today on the soccer field. I have also seen my older son grow. The journey has been anything but smooth, but it is nearing its completion with every important accomplishment. He wants to start this year on his college team and that means beating out the senior goalkeeper. Bryce's fitness has been an issue, so he has begun a rough and steady program for making himself fitter and muscular. I get to watch the progress since he does his weight lifting in the family room. I am sharing all the ooofs and ughs that accompany the exercises. As he literally grows in front of me physically, I see him growing responsibly as well.
On the flip side, I had to decide how much to be involved as the kids moved through their sports lives. It's hard not to meddle when we all want so much for our kids and we feel we can see the big picture better than they can, but I've discovered ultimately it is better to let them decide for themselves with whatever input I can give. This year, for example, I would much rather that my son plays with a local club. He should be committed to a college before high school season is over so it doesn't seem necessary to me for him to travel to Chicago where none of his games are ""home"" games. But he has his reasons for staying with his club team, and so that is what he is going to do. When Bryce's team dissolved at Under-14, he made the decision to play with a local ethnic club. I thought it could be a step down for him, but he knew several of the boys on the team, so that's where he felt comfortable. In the end the year he spent on that team turned out to be terrific both for him and for our family. While he ultimately moved on to a more challenging team, the opportunity for him to be one of the strongest players on his club team gave him great self-confidence and taught him valuable leadership skills. While both boys mature, I still nag about cleaning their rooms and getting homework done – I can't be completely hands off!
I've had plenty of opportunities to observe parents overly invested in their kids' success. This is not to say we shouldn't want the best for our kids and do whatever we can to assist them, but meddling isn't assistance. Part of growing up involves our kids investing in their own future and developing the skills to make their goals reality. While we can offer advice and teach some of the skills, we shouldn't be doing the work. Being a mentor is probably one of the most difficult jobs since it requires some very skillful tightrope walking. We all want to leap off and rescue our kids by running interference, but we shouldn't do that. And we all think if we just push hard enough we can maneuver our kids onto the path we think they should follow.
My kids accuse me of being a nag (and I am) so I constantly have to decide which moments to push and which moments to just back off and let them figure it out. This means allowing our kids to fail, which is definitely the toughest approach we take to child rearing. But every stumble teaches our kids to learn how to pay attention and leap when necessary. We won't always be there to pick them up. Sports provide the perfect opportunity to let kids succeed on their own terms. All too often we define success as being the absolute best. But success can also be making every practice or getting to start in a few games. We need to applaud those successes without reminding our kids that they didn't get to the very top. There's only one David Beckham in the world, but there's also only one of each of our kids. As deserving as Beckham is of our adulation for his skills and effort, our kids are even more so deserving of our support for all their successes no matter how small. The chances of our children being the next Beckham or Oliver Kahn are minute, but the chances of our children growing into happy, productive adults are nearly 100% so long as we don't have unrealistic expectations or try to achieve their success for them.
While it has been a struggle to stay on the sidelines, rather than insert myself metaphorically on the playing field, I have to admit that the evolving view is fabulous. I wasn't always successful in letting my kids work through their sports' experiences without my maneuvering. But I learned early to stay out of playing time issues and to let the kids chart their own course through their sports experiences. My lip probably has permanent teeth marks from biting, but it was necessary. My job is to watch from the sidelines and to cheer – not coach. Well, some gentle coaching is allowed, but not interference. Nevertheless I still feel anxiety as my children step into total independence and adulthood. I sit on the sidelines and wait for that adult to emerge. I trust that it will, and watching Robbie today blessedly reinforced that trust.