Let me be real with you, I am the last person you would pick to play Spades, let alone an actual sport. Despite this, even I have been fixated on the Olympics and even gleaned some parental pearls of wisdom from it. So, while my volleyball serve or jump shot will not improve, I am hoping that I have improved my parenting game. There is so much to learn from these driven and dedicated parents. Here’s a list of my thoughts out loud.
Lesson #1 Promote Dreaming…Big Dreaming
A close friend once told me that while in elementary school his class was given the task of singing a song entitled “You Can Grow Up to Be President” during an assembly. He mentioned how difficult it was for the class to actually practice this song because of the frequent laughter and sarcasm during rehearsals. During this pre-Obama period, even as small children, these African American urban kids thought the idea of leading America was insanely far-fetched and laughable. Can you imagine a child thinking that something is too impossible to dream? It almost defies being a kid. I would imagine that, for far too many parents, the default response to even a talented kid saying “I want to go the Olympics” might be discouragement. This “well-intentioned” discouragement often comes out a desire to protect a child from getting their hopes dashed. However, teaching kids to dream and to dream big shows them that we have confidence in them and pushes them toward being their best. We can show them how to dream by lifting our own goals before them and allowing them to see us persevere to meet them.
Lesson #2 Model Perseverance
Truthfully, I was that kid who tried a host of instruments, a few sports, and several clubs while growing up. In retrospect, while I appreciate the opportunity to explore, I wish someone had told me “Nope, you are going to stick with this a little while longer.” Every time we let ourselves or our kids off the hook without putting in real time, sweat, and dedication, we put another item on our “what if” list. You cannot win a race that you don’t run in.
Lesson #3 Teach from Failure
We are bound to fail at something, if not many things in life. It is inevitable. We should prepare our kids and ourselves for failures not by avoiding them but rather using them as teaching opportunities. There are many kids (and grown ups for that matter) who fail to try things because there is a chance they might not be successful. We run this risk particularly if our self-identity is rooted in what we do or own. Effort optimism, the notion that my hard work will and can produce a desirable outcome, is needed in order to reach new heights. When kids fall down, we empathize and wipe tears but then we say “another day, another chance.” If you are going to be a good winner, you should also be a productive “non-winner.”
Lesson #4 Encourage Self-competition
The negative image of the sports dad or mom rushing the field or court in a panicked frenzy should cause us to examine how we support our kids and promote healthy competitiveness. Helping kids to see that the goal is not to beat down the other guy, but rather to challenge and push oneself on to a higher level of skill and performance is the focus of promoting self-competition. We should be careful to resist unintentionally modeling keeping up with the Joneses but rather to have our kids seeing us push ourselves to personal and professional excellence. Our intentions should not be to outperform the next guy but rather to express appreciation over our God-given potential and gifts.
Lesson #5 Delight in your child: Cheer no matter what
Finally, when scanning the arena at the Olympic Games it is clear who owns the loudest cheers and brightest smiles, the parents of the Olympian. Parenting can be rich with burdens and that is why parents have to be intentional about enjoying their children. So whether or not, Junior is last or first at the track meet, he is still your boy and needs to hear you and know that you are his biggest fan.
Without a doubt, the story of Gabby Douglass has inspired a nation. Gabby’s mom propelled her to greatness by releasing her to follow a dream that some might have considered far-fetched. If my gene pool has the final say it is likely the Olympics won’t be in my girls’ future, but they will never hear that from me. Here’s to earning the gold in your parenting. Cheers!