Like any parent, I am unendingly proud of my children. While I am privy to the very worst of who they are on a day by day basis, I am also privy to the very best of who they are. Lee and I know our children better than anyone else on this planet. We see what makes them tick, certain aspects of their personalities that need to be polished and refined, and we have a foreshadowing of their gifts and how they can best be used.
With Lee having been a collegiate athlete, and me spending most of my formative years in competitive sports, it’s no surprise that our children have mostly drifted toward athletics, and they are blessed with skills that allow them to compete well. I’m not going to hide the fact that my children are good at sports, but how do I keep them, and myself, humble as we travel this road of competitive sports?
First and foremost, it takes a load of perspective to simply stay realistic. Yesterday Tia had the best gymnastics meet of her season. She improved all of her scores, raised her All Around score by over a point and took home the 1st place All Around trophy. My daughter is a gifted athlete, and right now gymnastics is the sport that is showcasing her God-given abilities.
But she will not be an Olympian. Lee and I know this. Tia, of course, dreams of the Olympics like every little girl dreams of the Olympics, and I will never, ever squash that dream. As long as she wants to go for gold, I’ll be standing behind cheering her on. I just know, however, that she won’t go to the Olympics in gymnastics, and I am okay with that.
As she competes, we work hard to keep her head level by encouraging her to compete against herself. We don’t urge her to beat her teammates, we urge her to beat her last score. At her last meet she scored in the 9’s on two events – this time we told her to aim for scoring 9’s in three events. She took our challenge and upped it, scoring in the 9’s on all four events. That was her own goal for herself.
On equal measure, our boys have shown great propensity for sports. One loves to play simply for fun, without a huge care of winning or losing. The other lives, eats and breathes ball, and it will not surprise me one little bit if that one goes on to play college ball, or even play professionally someday. He may not do either of those things, of course, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he did because he’s got a winning spirit combined with natural ability.
No matter what our children choose to do with their extracurricular time, though, we want them to know that athletics are just a piece of who they were made to be. What matters more to me is the character behind the athletes. Are they kind? Do they support their teammates? Are they good sports? Are they genuinely excited to see someone else succeed, even if they don’t?
And what are they doing off the field, or outside the gym? Those are the things that truly matter. Life isn’t all about sports, and the second that it becomes so, then something must change.
These are lessons that will need to be learned, and they can only be learned if Lee and I model them. We will push them to be the best they can be, but not at the detriment of character. Ways that we work to model healthy competitive character in sports:
– We will never so build our children up that they believe themselves to be all that and a bag of chips (how’d you like that little phrase from the ’80’s?). Humility has to be taught, so as soon as they start thinking they are the bomb, we have to (lovingly) bring them down a notch or two.
– We speak highly of our children’s teammates. We praise their abilities, congratulate their successes, and cheer them on with as much fervor as our own kids.
– To the best of our ability, we try to become friends with the other parents. We have been blessed so far in our sporting endeavors in that we’ve been surrounded by very positive, kind parents. I know that’s not always the case, but thankfully it is our experience, which means it’s not that hard to become friends with the parents of our kid’s teammates!
– We encourage our kids to be the best they can be not to beat their opponents, but to beat themselves. Yes, they want to win, and that’s okay. But do it for yourself, not for anyone else, and be gracious in winning, as well as in losing.
– We simply don’t allow ourselves to get too wrapped up in it. As Lee says, “Never want it more than they do.” When you watch your child compete, it’s so easy to get completely absorbed in every detail of their sport, but we have to remind ourselves that this is not all that comprises a life. Athletics are a small part of who they are – but it’s not the only thing. Lee and I have to remember that ourselves so that we can remind them.
The world of athletics can be tricky to navigate, especially as a parent. We feel every success and every disappointment right alongside our children. But if we can maintain control and perspective over our own emotions, we will be much better equipped to teach our children to control their emotions, which in the long run will only set them up for success in all of life.