Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Coaches & Coaching, Part 2

I have had hundreds of conversations with parents about their kids’ sporting experiences, probably the majority of them about their kids’ coaches. Some have been frustrated, others furious, many confounded by actions these coaches took or did not take. What is a parent to do?

Be Realistic
One of our sons played on his school’s varsity basketball team with a boy who had little talent. The coach didn’t cut him because he knew the boy desperately wanted to make the team. Even though the boy was content to ride the bench, his parents frequently grumbled about their son’s lack of playing time.

When parents don’t accurately assess their child’s abilities, they, and often their child, become frustrated. Since it is hard for a parent to be objective, I occasionally asked sports-wise people to appraise my sons’ talents. I used that information to help my sons (and me!) develop reasonable expectations. One time we used the information to begin praying that our son would have an opportunity to play more—a prayer God eventually answered.

Be a Godly Model
When one of our sons was a senior in high school and a starter on his basketball team, his playing time was reduced for a few games because his coach believed he wasn’t hustling. This made no sense. His athletic intensity never dropped much below 10, as evidenced by six steals in his most recent game! So what was the best way to help our son? If the goal was his maturity, I couldn’t lead him where I hadn’t traveled. Though I wanted to gripe about his “brain-dead coach” (the description that kept assaulting my mind!), I chose to forgive the coach and help my son do the same.

Be a Friend
Coaching can be a lonely calling. What your child’s coach may need is a friend—someone who will encourage him, drive a van, assist at a practice, record statistics. The main communication most coaches hear is how they could do their jobs better.(How do you think your surgeon would react if you gave him advice about your upcoming surgery?!)

Parents, act like a parent and not a spoiled child. Your child needs a godly model for how to handle life's unwelcome surprises.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Coaches & Coaching, Part 1

My sophomore year of high school I tried out for the school’s  basketball team—along with 120 other boys! At the first practice we were divided into two groups based on our junior high coaches’ assessments. I was placed in the “lets-cut-them-quickly” group. By the end of the first week of practice, I was one of two boys left from that group! And by the end of the season I was playing with the best fifteen players. I have Coach Ben Newcomb to thank for my survival and elevation. He alone saw and encouraged the talent that I had. Though he yelled and threw clip boards and kicked chairs—mostly in response to my errors!—I loved him because he believed in me and pushed me to become a batter player. His coaching nurtured a passion for basketball and, more importantly, a confidence that if I worked hard I could accomplish an important goal.

But I also had negative experiences with coaches. When I was in fourth grade I tried out for a Little League team. On the day that cuts were announced, I was one of the boys cut. As I dejectedly climbed on my bike, the coach asked if I would lead calisthenics. I agreed, wondering if I was being given a second chance. When we were done, I stood around not knowing what to do next. But the coach said, “That’s all, Schock, you can leave now.” I felt humiliated in front of the other boys. Had the coach intended that? I don’t know.

Former NFL star Joe Ehrmann has written: “One of the great myths in America is that sports build character. They can and they should. . . . But sports don’t build character unless a coach possesses character and intentionally teaches it.” Your children’s coaches can have a great impact for good or for evil in your child’s development. During the 20-25 years that my boys were competing in youth sports, I was a coach and an observer of coaches. Both sides of the coaching experience offer unique opportunities to live out our faith and influence kids’ development.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Parents Must Help Their Child-athletes Connect with God

The world of sport has exploded for kids in our culture. More children are competing — up nearly 50% over 25 years ago. More girls compete—nearly a tenfold increase in high school participation between 1970-2000. More children start earlier. More kids focus on one sport year round. More is demanded of these athletes—more practices, more games, more travel. More is demanded of their families-more money, more involvement, more expectations.

The question that rises from these statistics is, How does this flood of “more” impact parents’ goal to raise children who love God with all their hearts? The answer starts with parents – we must love God ourselves before we can help connect our child-athletes to God. We can’t pass on something we don’t possess.

I am a recovering sports addict. My childhood was filled with sports, playing them, watching them, dreaming about them. Though it is not wrong to enjoy sports, my challenge has been to be more temperate about them.

Some time ago I asked my wife to record a championship football game for me because I had another commitment. Since I enjoy the unexpected in sports, I made it clear to my sons that I wanted to view the game without knowing the outcome. When I came home, my long-faced, six year-old son greeted me: “Dad, I won’t tell you the score but I don’t think you will want to watch the game.” I immediately knew that my team had lost. I responded sharply, “Andrew, you weren’t supposed to tell me!” Unfortunately, my values were showing. I was more concerned about a trivial football game than my treasured son.

When parents become obsessed with sports, as so many have, they may try to serve that passion through their children. One father explained that watching his son play football “was almost like I was competing myself again.” Ouch! Parents, please understand: your childhood is over and your child still has his to live!  Appointing your child to fulfill your dreams puts a burden on him that he is “too small to bear and too young to comprehend.”

When I have counseled over-zealous parents that it is O.K. to occasionally miss their children’s sporting events, some look at me as if I am advocating child sacrifice! But if your relationship with God is the priority of your life, won’t you need to occasionally miss a child’s ballgame to attend a retreat or a home Bible study? If you always sacrifice those activities for your child’s athletics, what are you teaching your child? You can build your life around God or your child’s sporting life—but you can’t do both.
We parents need to remember what is truly, eternally important. Kids today need parents who have a larger vision for them than the next championship trophy.











Monday, September 14, 2015

“Pushing Too Hard”

Mark Shriver wrote a memoir about his father, Sargent Shriver. As Mark’s dad was nearing the end of his life and was suffering from Alzheimer’s, Mark took him to a lacrosse game that his 10-year-old daughter, Molly, was playing in. Mark tells the story:

The day dad came to her lacrosse game, he sat smiling and marveling at the scene in front of him: young people in the prime of their lives excelling in the sport on a gorgeous day. That is what he would’ve thought 10 years prior, I knew, but now I assumed he just sat there smiling as the sun was warm on his face and he was with us.

I, on the other hand, was constantly yelling instructions. About halfway through the first half, dad suddenly said to me, “Hey there.”

I looked at him. He wasn’t smiling, and I became instantly alarmed that something bad was happening. He looked straight at me. “You’re yelling a lot,” he said.

“I know dad,” I said, relieved that there wasn’t a crisis. “This is a really close game. Molly has to move or else we could lose.”

A minute or two passed before he said, “Hey there. Did I yell like that at you, too?”

I looked at him. He hadn’t spoken in an accusatory tone. It was just a matter-of-fact question. I was stunned. Had he suddenly remembered that I was his son? Did he know Molly was my daughter, his granddaughter? I didn’t think he had that cognitive capacity anymore.

“Did I?” He asked again, never once raising his voice or changing its tone.

I didn’t answer. “Of course you didn’t, Dad,” I thought.

Even when I was getting crushed in high school tennis, he never said a negative word. Even when I didn’t start for the first three games of my senior year on my high school football team, he had never yelled or expressed disappointment.

“No, you didn’t,” I said to him. He smiled.

“Good,” he said and turned back to resume watching the game and smiling in the sunlight.

What had just happened? I asked myself. Was he telling me not to yell? Was that a moment of insight, of clarity, of him being my father again, or were they just random words?

As we drove home I tried to engage him, to see if he could come back one more time to be there with us, but he didn’t bite. Instead, I talked with Molly – praised her and analyzed certain plays for her. It was the best postgame trip home we had ever had.

Why are so many of us parents like Mark Shriver, relentlessly pushing our kids to achieve in the sports world? And who will correct us when we need correcting?

Many children today feel intense pressure from their parents, their teachers, their culture to perform. Many of them believe that to be successful they have to be extraordinary. The bar is set way too high for many children today. Can we let them be children?



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

James Harrison II

How to Encourage Children 

Two weeks ago I watched an interview with Tiger Woods at the Wyndham Championships. He had just finished his second round and was leading the tournament. The interviewer asked several technical questions about his round which Tiger answered methodically. But when the interviewer asked, “How were the crowds?”, Tiger’s smile erupted: “They were great!” Tiger has been through some rough waters in his personal and professional life, and hasn’t heard many cheers lately. The crowd’s praise temporarily eased his pain.

I had a similar experience last week when I was playing pickup basketball at the “Y”. As we were negotiating the teams, one of the better big players announced: “I want Bernie as my point guard.” That comment made me feel ridiculously good! At the age of 67 it feels good to be wanted on the court.

God designed us with a need for praise. The problem we looked at in my last post was that too much of the praise that we give is “junk” praise, praise separated from meaningful accomplishment. My basketball friend’s request to have me on his team was based on my ability to feed him the ball in a position where he can score. His praise was meaningful because I knew it had a basis in reality. In that last post, when James Harrison returned his sons’ participation trophies, he wasn’t denying their need for encouragement.

So how do we praise our kids? The Apostle Paul provides a good model. In all of the letters he wrote to churches he began with praise—even with churches that had little praiseworthy behavior. He could always find something they did well. He eventually dealt with their problems, but he didn’t start there. If you want to share a negative message about your child’s performance, it will be received better if you start with some genuine praise.

Surprisingly, Jesus seldom praised people—he saved his praise for truly remarkable deeds. When a Roman soldier demonstrated faith in Jesus’s ability to heal his servant, Jesus marveled at his faith: “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” When we praise our kids too often, praise loses its power to encourage truly noteworthy behavior.

Furthermore, we parents should not over-praise athletic achievement. Educator and coach Bruce Svare praised his dad: “I am almost certain that my father was more proud of my academic accomplishments than he ever was of anything I did on the basketball court or football field.” Think about it: Do you show (at least) as much interest in your child’s academics as you do in her sports? Even when our sons were in college we tried to maintain a balance during our visits to campus—we not only watched their athletic contests but also attended some of their classes. 

Finally, our praise should point our children to earning God’s praise. You might say: “I am sure that God was pleased when you didn’t complain when the referee called that questionable foul on you.” Or, “God was certainly smiling when you didn’t retaliate against that girl who slammed you to the ground.”  God’s praise alone will wholly satisfy a child’s need for approval.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Returning Kids' Trophies?!

Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker, James Harrison, returned the participation trophies his six and eight-year-old sons were given, explaining: "While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy." Then he added, "I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best, because sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better."

Three cheers for James Harrison! Those trophies reflect the misguided philosophy that separates praise from achievement. This ”junk” praise  may impede a child’s ability to discern how God has gifted him. Your child needs help assessing his strengths and weaknesses so he can discover God’s design for his life.

When your child moans over a sub-par performance, don’t falsely praise him by saying: “Good job!” He knows better and will resent your good-willed lie. It might be better to simply say, “That wasn’t one of your better efforts.” And you might add later: “I think you’re not improving because you seldom practice.” Or if your child has a number of bad performances, he might need to hear: “Tom, you’re a better basketball player than soccer player. Would you like to put more time into developing your basketball skills?”

Hall-of-fame football coach, Lou Holtz, believes that American Idol testifies to the failure of some parents to speak truth to their children:

The less-than-skilled singers auditioning for American Idol is as staggering as it is sad. Simon Cowell, one of the judges on the show, has gained a reputation as being the “mean old bad guy” because he tells people the truth: some of them simply can’t sing. The fact that they’ve never been told this for fear of hurting their feelings is a troubling commentary on what we value today.

But eliminating false praise does not mean that your child needs brutal honesty. If your daughter is unaggressive in a basketball game, don’t whine about her lack of intensity. Commend her for a rebound she battled for and won. If your son made an error in a baseball game, praise one of his good plays—“You did a great job gauging the wind on that pop fly in the 2nd inning. Not many fifth-graders could make that play!” Some parents withhold praise because they think it will give their child a “big head”. But most often, the braggart’s self-praise is a vain attempt to meet his need for approval. If you don’t praise him, he will praise himself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Healthy Bodies

The Value of Team Sports

Why should children participate in sports? Because sports are one of the easiest ways to keep our God-given bodies in good shape. A healthy body makes it easier for us to serve God. And sports, especially team sports, are one of the best ways for children (and adults!) to keep fit.

As I was researching information about the US women’s national soccer team, an article by Erin Bried caught my attention. Bried asked: “What if the secret to getting in amazing shape was making exercise a team effort? Imagine taking a break from logging miles solo on the treadmill. Playing games would become your workouts, the fun your motivation, your teammates the most inspiring personal-cheering squad you could hope for.” Her point is that exercise is easier and more fun when you do it in the context of a game. Similarly, exercise science professor, Marcus Kilpatrick, has observed  that  “we tend to view sport as play and exercise as work, which is why we call one a game and the other a workout.”

Imagine this common scene in your home:

“Johnny, would you please mow the lawn this afternoon?”

“Dad, why do I always have to do it? Why don’t you ask Mary once in a while.”

“I do ask her to help. I’m asking you to help this time.”

“But dad, you always make me do more.”

Ask a child to mow the lawn or scrub the tub, and he may complain like you’ve asked him to wash all the windows on the Empire State Building! But put him on a basketball court and he has the unconscious energy to play for hours.

Being part of a team makes workouts easier to stick with and more enjoyable.  One study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that “when paired with a more capable partner, female exercisers not only put in more effort than those working out alone, but also pushed themselves a staggering 208 percent longer.I have been playing basketball for over 50 years. When I am done running up and down the court for an hour I am thoroughly exhausted and have to peel my sweat-soaked jersey off of my upper body. Would I push myself this hard if I was working out alone?!

Children need from 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous, age-appropriate, daily exercise. Team sports are an easy way for children to meet that need.