This is Part 1 of a 3-part series entitled Lessons Learned from My Kids.
A few years ago I came across a TED talk with John O’Sullivan from Changing the Game Project with a message that has had a profound impact on me as a parent. The link to the video is below.
I was never an over-the-top parent who made a scene at games, but prior to watching the video I would sometimes get frustrated watching our kids play and say stuff to them about their effort and attitude during the game. I realized that there is a time and place to address some of these issues, but it should always be well after the game is over and after I have told them, “I love watching you play.”
When I first started telling them this it felt kind of awkward. Especially when their effort was maybe not very good or they weren’t exactly focused on the game. However, I believe that as I started doing it more, it has empowered our kids to give their best because they know they have our love and support no matter how they perform.
My wife is awesome at telling our kids that she loves watching them play, and although I sometimes still get frustrated, her consistency is a good reminder that these five words can make a huge difference with our kids.
Our oldest son, Nathan, is currently 11 years old and loves to play soccer. I had never played on a soccer team growing up and my wife played youth soccer just a couple years. When Nathan was six years old he was asked to play on a soccer team because they needed another player.
I still remember Nathan walking up to one of the practices that first year dribbling the soccer ball like a basketball. The coach said to me, “I’m sorry but he is totally going to be a basketball player, I’m not sure about soccer.” He was not being condescending or mean, but I have often thought about that moment and wondered if people think at six years old it is determined what kind of athlete someone is going to be?
Fast forward five years and Nathan was on a different soccer team with kids he had never played with before. They had a good season and were the #1 seed in the end-of-season tournament. After winning their first game they were playing in the semifinals against a team they had beaten previously.
Nathan was the team’s top goal scorer and played offense about 90% of the time, but in the second half of the game the coach moved him to defense even though they were behind on the scoreboard and needed to score. I simply watched to see how Nathan would handle it.
We ended up losing, and after telling Nathan that I loved watching him play, I asked him what he learned that day. He responded that he learned he could play a different position on defense and still do a good job and help his team. That is a lesson that will benefit Nathan far more than winning that game.
Then, as we were walking to our car, the wife of Nathan’s coach stopped us and said that Nathan was an awesome athlete and a really good soccer player but that he was an even better person. She said that she watched how he interacted with his teammates and the opponents and that he was so mature and had such good sportsmanship.
I don’t tell this story to brag about my son. Instead, I want to point out that what you emphasize is what you will get. If your perspective is to learn important lessons from your sport experience then that is what you are going to get. If your perspective is that winning is everything and that second place is the first loser, then that is what you are going to get.
Do you think that Nathan is less likely to win his next game because he was not pouting and upset that they lost the game? On the contrary, I think Nathan is more likely to have a favorable impact on the next game because of his perspective. And no matter the outcome of that next game, I can guarantee that he will learn a lesson that will help him. You can learn when you win and you can learn when you lose...if you have the proper perspective.
Tell your kids you love watching them play and help them learn valuable lessons that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. Because, in reality, they are always learning. The question is, “Which lessons are we teaching?”
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