Crossroads

My oldest has asked to play football since he was very young. We were against tackle (due to brain injury concern, and the potential for him being exposed and potentially embracing toxic masculinity), but relented following our son being in flag football for many years, COVID isolating us all, and his need to see his dream through.

His first year, it was a shortened season—only four games, but they won most, and he had fun. The second year was a bit more eye-opening for him. He’d get overly anxious before each game — being unable to eat and/or keep anything down. He’d have no energy during the games (you don’t play optimally when you’re tired), and would be starving. All distractions. Workouts were more intense, but that didn’t bother him—he likes pushing himself to be fitter. His teammates were all over the place. Seniors making the season as if it were life and death, and his peers goofing off half the time. It’s left him questioning ‘do I really want to keep doing this?’

My oldest shared with his father he was considering walking away from the game. My husband was taken aback and needed a few minutes to let it sync in. My husband shared what he’d heard when I got home later that evening. “He said he has an important decision to make here in a few weeks about whether he’ll play football or not next year.” We we’re both caught by surprise. I wanted to talk to my son and see if I could understand more of what was driving this.

Thankfully he was willing to talk. I asked him why his was questioning playing with the team. He had clearly been putting some thought into it as he’d put a pros and cons list together mental which he recited. He shared that he loves the team and preparing for the game (though grueling). He hated how anxious he got, and it not allowing him to perform to his ability. He hated the range of attitudes by the players—overly serious (this is life and death), or immaturity, and some toxic masculinity (let’s hit something, pound chests, etc.). I could see how conflicted he was — loving the game, not loving all the comes with it. He was at a crossroads.

I started by telling him that playing, or not playing, was his decision but wanted to give him some things to consider before making the call. I started by talking about his teammates and the effect the pandemic had (which we all don’t fully understand yet) on younger people. “The seniors were overly serious because they got gypped out of two regular seasons due to the virus. They had a brief taste in the shortened season in the Spring of last year and wanted to see what they were capable of. Regarding your peers, studies have already shown maturity lacking in teen age groups due to the virus. Give tour peers through the summer and I’d guess they’ll act more age-appropriate.” I let that sink in for a minute then continued, “Regarding pre-game nerves. We can get you help with that through the doctor and bring in others like a sports psychologist to give you tools. The coach talked to you already about the leadership potential he sees in you, right?” My son nodded his head. “You have the opportunity to lean into being a leader. You followed last year because you thought that was your place, but you are growing and others see the potential in you. You have the opportunity to lead, people respect and listen to what you have to say.” This seemed to get him thinking based on his facial expression. “The last thing I’d like you to think about is not having regrets. You need to think through would you regret not playing sometime down the road, and if the answer is yes, than reconsider.” I shared a story with him about my own high school sports experience. I’d played on the golf team. The game was mentally taxing. I was good, but not great. I took it seriously, but not life or death. I recall questioning myself each year, but particularly before my senior year if I really wanted to subject myself to all the mental stress again. I ultimately decided I would regret it if I didn’t see it through, and I’m so glad I did. I have great memories, continued to improve my game, and got to be a mentor/roll model to the younger players. It was very satisfying.

My son is at a crossroads. My husband and I can only guide him at this point. I don’t want him making a decision he’ll wish he hadn’t later. As a parent, I feel the need to step back and let him make up his mind, and show that we trust him to make decisions that are right for him. He’s becoming an adult after all and needs to learn how to make ‘big’ decisions he can live with. It’s a bit unsettling as a parent to start letting go, but that’s the only way he’ll grow.

What crossroads has your child faced? How are you helping them make decisions for themselves that they feel good about?

Winning and Losing

How do you handle wins and losses?

Our oldest dressed for his team’s game and watched as they went up by many points. Early in the second half it looked like a potential blowout. But the other team kept playing, our team made mistakes, confidences got shaken, and what should have been a blow out ended up with the opposition winning soundly. It was a tough night.

The next morning after a good nights sleep washed most of the sting of the loss away, my son and I talked about the game. “Any thoughts on yesterday’s game?” I asked. He was quiet for a few moments. I couldn’t tell if he hadn’t heard me or was thinking about his answer. Just as I was going to ask another question he replied. “You know, I’ve been thinking about what my soccer coach in elementary school used to ask us after a loss — did they win, or did we lose? — I think we lost yesterday.” Whoa, I thought, that was profound. He’s really thinking about this at a deeper level, and processing what happened. I agreed with him on them losing. He talked for a few minutes on his view of why the loss occurred and what he’d fix if given the chance (plays he’d run, positions he’d have switched out to keep everyone with enough energy to play their best, etc.). He talked like a mature adult, with great leadership potential. I was both a little surprised and very impressed. I was reminded he is 15, a young man, stepping out of the shadow of his younger self. Gulp! Time truly is going fast.

Winning feels good. Losing doesn’t, but you learn so much more when things don’t go as you hoped or planned. You learn about yourself – what you’d do differently and improve the next time, and others – what’s within your control (not much) and what isn’t — and how to digest the pain in a way that helps you process the situation and moves you toward positive personal growth.

How do you help your child when they lose? How are you helping them see the upside of not winning, and the opportunity for growth?

Summer Camp Inspiration

What is keeping your child busy this summer?

Summer camps can be a godsend for parents when school is out — with the exception of the carpooling, odd hours, and cost, right?

My oldest decided he wanted to go to a specialty sports camp. It was a single day and very intensive. He was excited to go as the camp was touted as preparing the participants to become college athletes some day. I expected to hear all about how awesome the camp was when my son got home, but he was more in a daze (he got sunburned and had been outside for ten hours, but still).

“How’d it go?,” I asked. “Okay,” my son said. He was quiet. I had expected him to add more without prompting, but to no avail, so I continued, “was it all you were hoping for?” “Not exactly,” he said. He drew out the word not. “How so?” I asked. “We’ll, they had us run drills and this one coach kept yelling at me. I thought they were going to teach me, but I don’t feel like I learned anything new.” I asked him a few more questions then gave it a rest. He was clearly disappointed with the experience and exhausted.

About a week after this my son asked me to go for a walk. That rarely happens, so I jumped at the chance to get outside and have one-on-one time with him. As we walked he talked about his plans for the summer and things he wanted to do. As we walked the conversation went back to the camp he had attended. “I just can’t get it out of my mind what that coach said,” he started, “what he was asking me to do made sense but it was my first time doing it, so unsure why he kept singling me out and yelling at me.” We talked for a while about how the coach gave his critiques. Based on how my son described it the coach ‘motivated’ by shaming. I had to stop my son and make sure he understood something very clearly. “There are different ‘leaders’ that will come in and out of your life and will come in the form of teacher, your boss, and even coach. Leadership styles vary, but the best leaders know how to get the best out of you without having to break you down. When a leader feels this is the only way they can motivate you, it says more about them, than it says about you.” I corrected myself, “It says everything about them and nothing about you.” I explained further, “When you use shame or intimidation to motivate, it will work but there can be collateral damage, I.e., devastating consequences. You don’t want someone to be the best athlete or musician or dancer or worker or (fill in the blank), but be stressed all the time, hate themselves, and/or suffer mentally. You want to be led by someone who inspires you, understands how to get you to push beyond your comfort zone, and get the best out of you. When that happens you thrive vs. survive.” I took a breathe with the hopes that what I was saying was sinking in. “If the coach taught you a new approach and you think it’s a good one, then work on getting comfortable with it, and better at it, but do not waste one second allowing how he delivered his assessment to you sink it. Just let it fall on the ground where it belongs. He doesn’t know you or your capabilities. My guess is he would single out anyone he thought might make him look bad. Pitiful.” I rested my case.

My son was still taking in what I said. He shared other comments the coach had made that were directed at the larger group that confirmed my suspicion that this coach wasn’t someone I wanted my son around, and was grateful it had only been for the one day.

We’ve all had experiences in our lives where a leader didn’t necessarily show good character. It’s disappointing when you experience it, and angering when you see (of hear after the fact) your child did. I’m just glad my son shared. I hope he’ll take this lessen on leadership and look for leadership that will help him grow in a positive and healthy way — leaders who inspire him, push him to be his best, while appreciating him for who he is as he is.

What is your child doing this summer? Who are the leaders inspiring your child?

I will be off next week enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, and will return in July.