The Wide World of Sports… and the Teachable Moments to Be Found There
Whether our kids are natural athletes or not, they can learn much about themselves and about life by taking part in team sports, even if it’s just for a short time. Sure, they’ll learn how to pass a ball, swing a bat, etc., but they’ll also learn things like discipline, effort, perseverance, commitment, and teamwork. And while the coaches will be doing much of that teaching, it’s also up to us as parents to help guide our kids through various teachable moments that will present themselves both on and off the field/court/track.
When They First Start
When our kids begin to show interest in a sport, it’s good to encourage that interest. Before signing them up for a team, though, we should discuss expectations. Our kids need to know upfront how much time will be given to practices and games, and there is a teachable moment here concerning being committed to finishing what you start (such as finishing a season). The commitment also includes being dedicated to a group of people who are counting on you to show up and put forth your best effort. This might sound like a lot of pressure to put on a young child who just wants to have fun playing a game. Having fun is a big part of it, but this is also a great opportunity for our kids to learn valuable life lessons.
When They Fall
Inevitably, there will be actual, physical falling when our kids get involved in sports. They need our encouragement, support, and probably Band-Aids, when that happens, but they also need our help when they fall in other ways. Sometimes discouragement sets in, sometimes lack of confidence, sometimes the evil voice of comparison. As parents, we can empathize with our kids’ feelings of discouragement while simultaneously encouraging them to get up and try, try again. Being able to learn through falls and setbacks, choosing to keep working hard and moving forward, is more important than just being good at a sport. Let’s encourage this kind of perseverance.
When They Fail
Chances are strong that our kids won’t be superstars in every sport they try. But when they realize their talents lie elsewhere, we can still praise their efforts. And I think we would all agree that false praise or being unrealistic with our kids about their abilities is not helpful to them. What we can do, however, is encourage them to finish strong, not blame others or be a sore loser, always show good sportsmanship, and be supportive of their teammates. Even when they can’t control anything else, they can control their own attitudes and efforts. It can be hard to watch our kids struggle, but these moments are important for their personal growth. We need to let them fail sometimes, not try to save them from it. And if our kids have fulfilled their commitment and don’t want to go any further in this particular pursuit, then, parents, it might be best to let them move on to something else. It’s all part of the process of discovering what they’re good at and what they enjoy.
When They Flourish
On the flip side, sometimes our kids do really, really well in an athletic endeavor. When they do, let’s not neglect praising them for their efforts and accomplishments. It is good for our kids to hear how proud we are of them. We should, after all, be their biggest fans! We need to be careful, though, to make the distinction between what they do and who they are, when we praise them. Talents and accomplishments can easily become a source of identity for our kids, and we want to make sure they know that their worth and our love for them are not tied to their achievements. So even if they’re winning all the time, we can still take advantage of these teachable moments by putting more emphasis on their efforts than on the results. (The results shouldn’t be ignored; they just shouldn’t be what get all the attention.) And through it all, let’s teach our kids how to be gracious winners. They can be proud and confident without bragging, showing off, or talking down to others.
When They Finish
Whether it was a great season or a tough season, we can always applaud the completion of a commitment. Then we can talk with our kids about what they learned through the experience and decide if it’s something they want to continue doing or not. Sometimes we assume that because our kids are naturally good at something, they will surely want to keep doing that thing. But it’s important to revisit the topic at the end of each season and before automatically signing them up for the next one. Let’s let the kids be involved in the decision-making process.
Parents, there are so many teachable moments to take advantage of with our kids through sports. This article only scratches the surface. Let them try. Let them fall. Let them fail. Let them flourish. And definitely let them finish. They learn through all of it.
Carrie Bevell Partridge and her husband Kevin are on the lookout for teachable moments with their five kids in Ridgeland, MS. Read more from Carrie at carriebevellpartridge.com, where she writes words of encouragement and support for marriage and family. Carrie is also in the process of writing a book on practical ways to seize teachable moments with your kids.