Stoked for Sports, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Stoked for Sports


October 31, 2011

Our son, Oscar, played football as a fourth-grader last year. He was on a team of 3rd and 4th graders and though it was flag football, they wore full pads and helmets. There was plenty of contact: the boys were basically taught the first two steps of tackling—making contact and wrapping up—without taking someone to the ground.

I was uncertain how Oscar would take to the sport. I loved football when I got to play in high school and college intramurals. I made sure, though, that it was his decision to play, not mine. I encouraged him, and was able to describe the virtues of the game—teamwork, sportsmanship, courage, discipline—but I wanted him to want it for himself. He decided to give it a shot.

Turned out, he did great. He was not the fastest or strongest kid on the team, but excelled at the mental part of the game. Catholic Youth Organization is great about emphasizing participation, and he got to see the field a good bit during games. I had the time to be able to volunteer as an assistant coach, and it was gratifying to be out on the field with him during practices and games.

I have three hopes for our kids when it comes to athletics, and getting a good feel for a sport is one of them. Getting them to try a sport is one thing, but because they are beginners and lack skill, they are easily discouraged. For example, a 10-foot goal in basketball can be a long way to shoot a ball when you are in grade school. I hope to encourage them in a given sport long enough for them to get a real sense of the sport—not just how difficult it is, but how rewarding it can be.

Another hope is that they find something they are passionate about. That word “passion,” at its root, has to do with suffering. When it comes to sports, I certainly do not want my kids to suffer, but I do want them to find something they value enough that they are willing to sacrifice for it.

This year, when fall came around and signups for football started, I had a serious conversation with Oscar about his desire to play. In 5th grade, the game moves from flag football to tackle football. I knew that he had a good basis on which to decide, given his experience last fall. He seemed open to playing—“kinda” interested, he said—but there is no room for “kinda” in tackle football. It is a sport that demands commitment.

I asked him about other interests—soccer, for example, or climbing. His eyes lit up when I mentioned climbing. He has always loved to climb, mostly trees and climbing walls. Then this summer he climbed to the top of a smooth light pole next to our house like it was a palm tree. We’ve had him in a climbing summer camp before, but we haven’t given him a regular opportunity to climb.

So, instead of football this fall, we’re taking him to a bouldering gym twice a week. (Bouldering is climbing that does not exceed 10 feet high, and thus does not require ropes and harnesses.) His eyes genuinely light up when we are there. In gym lingo, he is “stoked.”

I suggested that he increase his ability by doing some exercises at home on non-climbing days. He has taken the challenge and is doing some pull-ups and push-ups now after school, and after several weeks of climbing, he is really improving. It is fun to see him having fun, and that he is willing to work at getting better.

The third hope I have for our kids and athletics is that they play at least one team sport, and Oscar has chosen basketball for that, which is great. Winter will be here before we know it.

There is a fine line between encouraging and pushing children in athletics. I’ve seen pushy parents who are too demanding of their kids, and most of the time both the child and the parent are miserable. Sports are, above all, a way to enjoy our bodies. There is a problem if a child doesn’t experience joy in an athletic experience. Yes, the agony of defeat is part of the game, but joy should not be absent.

Sports are also a way to grow in excellence through cultivation of habits—a lesson that translates very well into any other area of life. The key for me in this area is encouraging Oscar enough that he adopts that desire for excellence for himself. If I push him too hard, though, that desire becomes ordered not towards the particular excellence of the sport itself, but towards pleasing me and satisfying my authority.

Judging by his eyes in the climbing gym, he loves to climb and wants to get better. Which makes me, like, totally stoked, bro.

 

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Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

I feel like a war-worn, battle-tested survivor today after parenting the kids alone while Stacey is away. In one day, two of the three children abruptly outgrew their school uniforms—their pants just all of a sudden didn’t fit. Next, I held lines with a hormonal, irrational, and emotional teenager over an utterly nonsense issue without escalating. Finally, I had to break out the sewing kit to make repairs to two non-clothing items, once during breakfast and then again during dinner.

The key to it all, looking back from a comfortable distance, was holding lines and boundaries and avoiding escalation. Escalation is how we describe what happens when a conversation continually rises in intensity and then boils over.

I usually have the line-holding thing locked down. That part is easy for me. It is just that I easily escalate as I hold those lines because I become offended if they are crossed.

For example, Oscar began a conversation just before bed by saying this, “Daddy, I feel like you outright lied to me…” I called a time out right there and had him go back to his room and think about a better way to begin that thought. I told him that I did not intentionally deceive him, and accusing someone of lying is a big step. He consulted a dictionary and held his line—he felt like I lied to him.

Understanding that he had come to this conclusion thoughtfully, I let him proceed with his statement. He was talking about something utterly insane—he felt like I was preventing him from going to bed sooner—so I called a second time out and told him to hit the sack because the conversation was not going to be productive.

Now, if it was still an issue in the morning, we could talk about it then, I told him. He was miffed in the moment, but I’m pretty confident he got over it in 15 minutes. Our poor son has hormones raging through him and he just isn’t himself sometimes. In some ways, he literally is becoming someone else—his voice is changing and his body is transforming into an adult’s.

There is an old saying that is ringing more and more true to me the older I get: the boy is the father of the man. The line means that the habits and proclivities we cultivate in our youth shape the adult we become. Looking back, I see this as true in my own life. Looking ahead, I see that we have a responsibility to help Oscar cultivate the man he will become one day.

That lens changes what lines I hold with him and why. I used to hold lines about respectfulness because I felt like children should honor their parents (which they should, of course). Now I hold those lines with Oscar because I want him to become a respectful man who communicates thoughtfully when he matures.

Oscar is changing, and his changes are transforming our family, and asking more out of us as parents. As a teenager, he is highly sensitive to anything that even smells hypocritical, and this is calling us to more integrity and honesty in our parenting. We have to be able to hold lines in a firm, but loving manner, and to absorb escalating emotions without making him feel distanced. We can clearly see that he absolutely needs firm boundaries now (more than ever), but that he also desperately needs to feel heard now (more than ever).

On top of all this, we must maintain and perhaps even increase our physical affection for him. Touch is one of the ways Oscar receives love—he has always responded to physical affection, whether a rub on the back or a sudden hug. As he grows into his teenage body, which starts to resemble an adult body, it seems natural to give him more space and privacy. While he does need those, he also continues to need bodily expressions of love.

So in many ways, he is asking us for that which is most difficult to give right now—parenting him is like swimming upstream. Balancing all of that is not easy, but true growth never is, and it will make us stronger swimmers in the end. We are taking another step in the way family life is calling us to grow towards perfection.


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