When my little guy (7-year-old Parker) told me he didn’t want to wrestle this season, my reaction shocked him.
“No problem, buddy,” I said.
I had come a long way in the past year.
“You’re not going to make me?” he asked in happy amazement.
“Nope. From here on out, it’s up to you. I had you do it last year because I thought you might like it, and because I think you should try things at least once. But if you don’t want to do it again, that’s no problem.”
My evolution — going from a dad who told his kids what they are going to do (especially when it came to sports) to a dad who was going to let them choose — was the result of witnessing first-hand the painful spectacle of watching your kid participate in a sport in which they have little interest. I can tell you, it’s hard on the coaches, the other kids and the dad watching.
After a few weeks of blaming my son for not paying attention, or being lazy, or the blaming the coaches for not playing him enough or not making practices interesting enough, I starting blaming the person truly responsible for the debacle — me. I started to realize that I was the only person who wanted him there, and watching the result of that foolishness left me not wanting to be there. And then I realized what a fool I was being.
Eventually, I made a decision — “I’m done with this. We’ll finish the season, but from now on the kids will be the ones to decide. If they don’t want to do a sport, no problem.” Sure, I’d love to have them do something every season to stay healthy and fit, but they have to choose it, and if we couldn’t find one of the usual suspects, they could do something else like swimming.
Once I had this change of heart, I felt like a million pounds had been lifted from my chest. I felt I’d just turned off the “bad dad” road and gotten back on the right track.
“Hey listen. From now on, it’s up to you. You make the decisions about sports. I want you to do stuff, but you get to pick. But I want to be clear about something — when you do pick something, you take it seriously. You will show up when you’re supposed to and put in effort. If you pick something, Parker (I looked over at him), I expect to see you more focused than you were in football or wresting, because when you join a team, you make a commitment to your teammates, and it’s not fair to them if you don’t follow through.”
With kids in sports, as with adults in their jobs, the difference in performance between someone who’s doing what they love and someone who’s doing what they’re told, is massive. We’ve all worked with those who are just going through the motions, and they don’t do anyone around them a favor by being there. But when you have, or find, someone who is engaged, there is little they cannot do, and when you have a team of such individuals, there is little that cannot be accomplished.
One my greatest goals as a father is make sure my boys appreciate the importance of this fact, and don’t just wind up somewhere the currents of life have cast them, without lifting a paddle to influence the destination. I’ve known and seen too many people who’ve wound up where they are without making conscious, proactive choices; choices which changed their direction one way or the other. I want my boys to know, to believe, that the world is clay to be molded into the image they want, not concrete to be slinked around or jumped over. All is malleable in proportion to our will, so to the person of iron, the possibility are limitless.
But all this is predicated on that basic concept that only with deep interest serving as the fuel for their efforts can great things be accomplished. And accomplishing great things should be a goal anyone can get behind.