The Distance Run

CSC_0569I coach middle school cross country, which is not a glamorous job, but it is uniquely rewarding. For young distance runners, the hardest part is embracing the pain that creates stronger legs and faster times. I try to make practices and meets fun, but there is no way of getting around the fact that running really fast for 15-20 minutes is going to be painful, especially for growing little bodies.

Most of the kids who run cross country learn that without a healthy dose of pain every day they will not improve. No pain, no gain. Convincing kids of this is no easy task, but over time the sport tends to naturally reward those who fight through physical pain and emotional weakness.

When a young person develops some mental and physical toughness, they are growing up well. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress that these kids make over a season.

Some of my fellow coaches, Doug and Jennifer Meyer, use a fairy tale metaphor when explaining the need to persevere over a long distance. It also applies to many of life’s challenges that require stamina.

Parenting is a distance run, after all.

The Wolf

Somewhere in the middle of the race, there is a big bad wolf lurking around the corner. He will try to get you to slow down.

He sneaks up next to you and says things like, “Slow down. You’re hurting yourself. This is crazy. What’s the point of this? It’s not like you can win the race. You’re not very fast. Doesn’t this hurt? Just take it easy. No one will notice.”

The wolf doesn’t want you to work hard to achieve your goals. Continue reading “The Distance Run”

Play Well This Summer!

Summer School.

Summer Job.

Summer Reading.

Yes, parents need to keep kids mentally active and productive in the summer. Growing up well requires hard work and intellectual development year round.

However, parents also need to help kids enjoy life fully, and that absolutely requires fun — the sort of fun that is a little dangerous and a whole lot dirty, wet, and sweaty.

The best kind of play requires kids to focus every ounce of their mental, emotional, and physical energy into that activity, and it should not include a digital screen. Video games are fine, but that’s not the best sort of play. It should look something like this.

So, this summer, consider what your family can do that is outside-the-theme-park fun. What can you get your kids to do that is requires movement, creativity, mental focus, and courage. What fun activities require all the senses? Here are a few ideas.

Continue reading “Play Well This Summer!”

Connect With Your Young Teen

First Connect, Then Guide

celebrateThe best parents are the ones who are deeply connected with their children and offer support and guidance all along the path of life. They’re the ones who care enough to say, “No, you can’t do that, because I love you too much to let you settle for that.” And their children know that they mean it.

Good parenting is about being confident that you have a far higher calling than to just be a friend or dish out punishment. It is about being an authority who loves always and takes the time to guide and train a child to grow into an independent person. Continue reading “Connect With Your Young Teen”

Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury

So, your teenager is injured and is out for the rest of the season. Of course, his or her initial reaction will be anger, sadness, self-pity, confusion. That is normal, since this is a form of grief – the loss of something beloved.

But after a few days of sulking and trying to come to grips with the loss, a young athlete has a choice to make. Will he or she make the very best of the situation, or not?

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3d rendered illustration of a painful shoulderWhen I was a high school freshman, I was a big shot quarterback, playing up with the older kids on the junior varsity team. In the first game of the year, I played well enough to lead the team to a win, but I broke my collarbone on one of the last plays of the game. That was it for the season. No more football until next year.

After a week of pain and anger at home, I was back at school, feeling better but not able to run, throw, or do anything athletically. It seemed totally pointless to go to practice or games, so I just stopped showing up. I would hang out after school for a little while, then get to my homework early.

After a few days, one of my coaches asked me when I would show up to practice and games. I was surprised. I said, “I wasn’t planning on it, since I can’t play for the rest of the season.”

Coach pushed back a little, “Well, you can come to the games at the very least and still be a part of the team, right?” Continue reading “Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury”

The Sacred Honor of Being a Parent

A Unique Relationship

Parenting is a unique relationship, wherein the parent is authorized by law and by God to protect, provide, nurture, and discipline. Ultimately, the parent must somehow control self and child enough to train for independent success.

Parenting is a special relationship, one in which the parent is fully responsible for the children in the early years and only a little less responsible as the children grow older. It requires enormous sums of time, energy, and money. It requires tough love, tender affection, as well as the shades of grey in the middle.

Parenting is so challenging because every situation is complicated and varies from past situations. What works today may not work tomorrow. And the stakes are high for the parent because the “success” or “failure” of the child directly reflects upon the good or bad reputation of the parents.

What other relationship comes close to that kind of responsibility and intimacy?

Parents Are Heroes to their Kids

Thanks to Family Share for the video. Super Work!

Parenting With and Without Fear

Fear is universal.  Columnist Dave Barry writes, “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears — of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words “Some Assembly Required.”

We are all deeply motivated by our fears, and they influence nearly every one of our decisions.   Some fears are entirely legitimate, while others are unwarranted.  Some fears are healthy, while others are neuroses.   And while children are naturally prone to fears of all sorts, due to their lack of knowledge, adults are often victims of unfounded fears due to faulty knowledge or perspective.

Parents, in particular, are afraid of anything that poses a threat to the wellness of their children.  In their best-selling book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the fears that control parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, etc.):

 No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fear-mongering than a parent.  Fear is in fact a major component of parenting.  A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared. Continue reading “Parenting With and Without Fear”

Failure’s Top Ten List

1.  Not Everybody Gets A Trophy

Somewhere along the line we became a society that preached instant gratification. Like a giant carnival, our slogan became “everybody wins all the time.” We know it’s not true. It’s also a terrible example to set. Losing is every bit as important in human growth as winning. Rewarding your child for doing nothing will teach him just that. Nothing.

2.  Everyone Has Different Talents

Maybe your daughter wants to be the next Carrie Underwood. Then you hear her sing. Your son wants to be Evan Longoria. He can’t hit the ball off a tee. There are just some things we aren’t cut out for. It’s best to learn that at an early age. The good news is that they are a champion at something. Guide them towards where their gifts lie.

3.  Have Class

What is one of the most flattering descriptions a person can hear? “He sure has a lot of class.” “She sure was a great sport about it.” Are you teaching your children how to fail with dignity? How a person accepts failure is an easy indicator of the character within. It also almost guarantees future success. Respect is gained outwardly and inwardly. Coach Dungy is prime example of “class.”

4.  Learning From Mistakes

“I think and think for months. For years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” Who said that? Albert Einstein. Mistakes humble. They can hurt. Yet without them, we are stagnant. Every mistake we make is an educational experience. Every success is built upon a foundation of errors and corrections.

Continue reading “Failure’s Top Ten List”

Kindness Matters

Now and then, the tables are turned, and an everyday kid doing a good deed gets some attention.

Let’s all remember that there are plenty of kids out there growing up and making a difference now.

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Sportsmanship is alive

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It’s such an easy gesture yet it’s rarely seen…the simple act of sportsmanship.

Early in the game played on the lush fields of Westminster Christian Academy in Creve Coeur, Webster Groves lacrosse player Caroline Burk went down with a leg injury.  As coach Josh Palacios  ran to his player, she was already being attended to by Westminster Christians’s Danielle Pfyl.  The two helped Caroline to the sidelines.

These days the act is rarely seen away from the high school playing fields.

Over the course of covering six St. Louis Cardinals games so far this season, this photographer has seen more jawing between pitchers and hitters, both demanding respect.  In one instance the banter almost resulted in a bench clearing confrontation.

They could learn just a little bit from Danielle.

Read the Comments from both players here.  Wonderful stuff.

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Related Post: athletics-is-a-means-to-an-end

Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End

Every parent of an athletic child wonders if their kid has a shot at the big time.  Well, let’s look at some hard facts related to this question. Just 2 percent of varsity high school athletes will play their sport in college, and only 1 percent will get a scholarship to do so.  Let’s take basketball as an example.  Roughly 1 basketball player from all the athletes from 8 high school teams will get a scholarship.  How many high school basketball players make it to the professional level?  0.03% Yes, that is 3 in 10,000 who make an income playing basketball.  Far less will make the big money in the NBA.  And very few of them play for very long.  The truth of the matter is brutal.  9,997 varsity high school players don’t ever make any money playing basketball; 3 do.  Of those three, two will earn about $40,000 a year in a foreign league until younger players replace them in about five years.  1 in 10,000 will gain some fame and fortune playing ball.

So kids may dream of playing pro ball, but it’s a fantasy for all but a very, very, very few who are extraordinarily talented, extremely hardworking, and exceedingly fortunate to avoid injuries and be seen by the right people at the right time.

So, is it foolish to pursue excellence in sports in high school?  Absolutely not!  But it’s essential that student athletes understand that sports is a great teacher, but it’s a lousy employer (because it isn’t hiring).  Athletics is a means, not an end.  It can teach young people valuable lessons and instill noble character traits that are extremely useful in their careers and in their relationships.

But too many kids and parents are burdened with the belief that they can do it.  They will be the next LeBron James, Roger Federer, or Albert Pujols.  I say “burdened” because the overwhelming evidence says that they will not achieve anywhere near that level of success.  And the result is a young life that is very often ultra-competitive, over-scheduled, and hyper-stressed.   Burnout is common.  Injuries can be severe (torn ACL’s and rotator cuffs among preteens are not unusual now).  Resentment often looms ahead.

Stephen Durant is an expert in youth sports, and his book Whose Game Is It, Anyway? has some excellent advice for parents and coaches of great young athletes.

1.  “Emphasize the development of virtue and character over scoreboard outcome. The development of a good character — the ability to control passion, emotion, and behavior — will always stand children in good stead on and off the playing field… Children, at any talent level, can only be truly successful in life if they possess good character.  Becoming an emotionally balanced person of courage, fairness, self-discipline, and strong ability to work as a member of a team, sets up a person for success in any endeavor, in any place” (Durant).

Continue reading “Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End”

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

Loyalty and Love Personified

John Wooden, the most-successful and most-revered basketball coach of all time, is a role model for so many men — and rightfully so.  To this day, as he approaches 100 years old, his character is so strong that the people around him want to be better because of his example.  Watch this, and you’ll get a glimpse of why he inspires so many people, near and far, with his loyalty and his love.

Let’s not forget that this kind of life is possible — and powerful.

We have a lot to learn from Coach Wooden.  Click here for more.

Poor Sport Dad

My sister has two kids (10 and 13), both of whom are very athletic, and their family truly enjoys participating in and watching youth sports.  We like to swap stories about our kids, and inevitably many of them are about something crazy that has happened in sports.  Here is the latest…

“Last night at Hailey’s basketball game, we were playing a team we’ve beaten 3 times before, and this time they were out for blood. Never mind the obnoxious lady coach teaching her kids to throw elbows and “get ’em!” but there was something even better.  I loved the Dad and his teenage son, sitting right under the basket, who decided that in the second half they would wave their arms and yell and laugh while our girl was shooting a free throw. They did this twice, and then a dad from the same team went over to tell them to stop. They didn’t!  It was hysterical and SAD. After the game one of our very shy moms confronted him. She told him “Good game, your girls deserved to win” and then went on to tell him how inappropriate his behavior was. You could see he was clearly shocked at this confrontation, but sadly he told her “your team has beaten our team 3 times, and we wanted to win.”  These girls are third and fourth graders!”

Here are my thoughts on this scene:

A.  It doesn’t shock me, although it is fairly rare to see someone THAT immature and moronic in the stands of youth sports.

B.  I am so proud of the two parents who confronted him about his terrible behavior.  We need more of them.

C.  The referees, or the tournament director, should have stopped the game to confront him and thrown him out of the gym if he refused to stop.

D.  I feel sorry for the man’s kids.

E.  Like my mom said about my own baseball coach who used to lose his mind on occasions, “Kids can learn from bad examples as well as good ones, if parents talk about these things with their kids.”

In the grand scheme of things, we need to remember that youth sports is a series of kids games with referees and coaches to keep things moving along well.   It’s a game.  And sometimes it takes a jerk in the stands to remind us of that.

Beyond Beauty and Athletics

Athletic talent is instant karma for the social status of any young man.  In modern American mythology, the quarterback is the hero.

It’s easy for the athletically-gifted boy to be well-respected and popular because he is always among the biggest, fastest, strongest, and most coordinated boys in his grade.  Anytime there is a physical contest, which is pretty much every hour of every day in a boy’s life, he succeeds.  He gets picked first – maybe second – every time.  And that is just the beginning of the fun.  Win or lose, his God-given talent is on stage for all of his peers to see, sometimes garnering instant applause.  Later, he will bask in the glory of hearing others review some great move or play he made.  His friends will enter his bedroom to see a wall full of trophies, ribbons, and medals.  In high school, he will see his name and picture in the local newspaper.  It’s “The Life” for a boy.

For the most elite athlete, he doesn’t feel the NEED to be a good student, have a witty personality, or have great social skills.  In some cases, he doesn’t even need to practice as hard as the others.  He just needs to put on his shoes and go play ball and success happens because he has IT – the gift of athleticism.  So, he gets self-esteem automatically, friends easily, and it can spoil him to the point where he is no longer developing in other important areas.  His peers allow him to coast – and not grow up well.

And so it is with the beautiful girl. Everybody knows who she is. From the earliest age, people stare at her, trying to figure out what makes her so pretty.  What’s her secret?  All of her pictures turn out well because she is naturally photogenic.  Her facial features are perfectly symmetrical with high cheekbones and bright eyes. Her skin is clear and bright. Her hair easily folds into the latest hairstyle, and her figure just gets better each year.  She is Venus, goddess of love and beauty, who needs no decoration or modification.  In modern mythology, the beautiful cheerleader is the goddess who captivates the hero.

She simply smiles politely, and everybody adores her.  She doesn’t have to speak intelligently, get good grades, or have a snappy sense of humor.  Her name is written on binders at school, and all eyes are on her in the halls.  Continue reading “Beyond Beauty and Athletics”

Liars, Cheaters, and Role Models

This week on the car radio, I overheard the most obnoxious sports radio talk show host furiously ranting and raving about how corrupt professional and big college sports have become.  It went something like this: “Don’t let your kids idolize anyone in sports today!  It’s an ugly business, full of greediness, lying, cheating, and everything that is wrong with this world.  There are no role models in sports anymore!”  To me, it was a shocking rant because his livelihood is made from talking about sports, yet there he was betraying his industry with the most extreme language.  He didn’t “pull a punch” or let anyone off the hook.  He explained with the utmost disgust that all professional and big college athletes, coaches, and executives are tainted by the money, the power, and the fame.

It troubled me as I thought of the players from my childhood who were my role models: Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Brock, John Stockton, Roger Staubach, and Walter Payton.  I thought about some of the role models that I have in sports now:  Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Albert Pujols, and others.  Are they in some way corrupt too?  Are they just putting on a show for the public?  Or are they just the extreme minority — one of just a very few people in the sports industry who have stayed grounded in spite of all the corruption around them?  Or is this radio host just off his rocker once again?

Continue reading “Liars, Cheaters, and Role Models”

Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports

After a weekend out of town at my son’s soccer tournament, I’m a little tired of hearing, “Did you win?”  It was, without question, the single-most popular question of the weekend. Even strangers in the hotel would ask my uniformed son, “Didja win?”  And each time he would sadly reply, “No,” followed by an awkward silence.

For an 11-year-old boy who loves to win, it’s not easy, especially when you lose all three games.  Especially when you drive 5 hours each way to make it happen.
DSC00625
O for 3.
Winless.
Losers.

And yet he and his teammates played so hard and so well. They did all that their coach asked them to do.  They pressured the ball on defense.  They stayed spread out.  In particular, they passed the ball much better than all the other teams.  They put together nice plays and took more shots than the other teams.  They kept playing hard, giving their best – body, mind, and heart – even when knocked down over and over without a foul being called.   Shot after shot would hit the goalposts or just miss the net.  But then they’d give up a breakaway goal to the other team.

Continue reading “Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports”

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