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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What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

On the second Sunday of Lent, as we were driving to Mass, we decided to check in as a family on how each of us was doing with the personal disciplines we had chosen for the season. 14-year-old Oscar was working hard at his and was doing well. 7-year-old Lucy was not working hard at all on hers—because it depended more on our not having sweets in the house than on her own effort—but was doing very well. When it was 9-year-old Simon’s turn, he burst into tears and spoke pretty heatedly about how he did not like what he had chosen and wanted to stop it.

Many parts of this situation were troubling.

First, we were almost to the church and he was a mess. Next, he had chosen a really good discipline: giving up one of his precious weekend days of screen time each week. Our children get 30 minutes individual screen time on each day of the weekend and Simon had voluntarily chosen to fast from one of them for Lent. It was a great idea. It was also—unlike Lucy and the candy that was not even in the house—extremely challenging when his sister and brother still got their 30 minutes on a given day, and he got nothing. Finally, what was most troubling to me was this question: “What is our role as his parents in the face of his wanting to give up his Lenten discipline?”

In the moment, we just tried to settle him down and said we can talk more about it later, hoping that after an hour at Mass he would let go of the whole thing. He calmed down as much as he could. But when I would peek at him during Mass and see his still teary eyes, it was obvious he was still thinking about it.

So at roughly homily time I thought, “Okay, what are the possible ways we could handle this situation?” I came up with three:

First, we could listen to how troubled he was and let him drop his Lenten discipline. This would effectively mean he would fail at following through with it. He might experience some guilt about that. We would not lord it over him, of course, but he is sensitive enough that it might bother him. The possible positive side would be that next Lent he would be more discerning in his choices and spend more time examining options and possible implications of those options.

Second, we could talk with him about how important it is to personally observe Lent and allow him some space to think of and then propose an alternative discipline that he would take up for the remainder of Lent. The downside here would be a certain lack of follow through in the face of challenge. What is a “discipline” after all if we don’t stick with it when it is challenging? The upside would be empowering him to take responsibility and think things through.

Third, we could hold him to the discipline and not allow him to drop it or change it. The primary reason for this approach in my mind would be helping him to understand and experience what it takes to have personal discipline. The negatives would be that his experience of his personal observance would be one of heaviness and weight without any of the freedom and generosity that come from personal choice.

Perhaps for folks reading this there is a pretty clear best approach. In truth, I was really pretty conflicted about what the right approach was in our role as parents in this situation.

In the end, when I talked it over with Joshua, it came down to remembering that we show our children the face of God in the way we parent them. So we asked ourselves, what face of God do we want to convey to Simon?

After Mass I walked into Simon’s room and I sat on his bed and talked with him. I told him I felt a bit stuck because it is hard to know how to help him be the best version of himself in this situation. I told him the three options I had come up with. He said he would like to consider changing his Lenten observance and would like to take the day to think of a substitute. “But,” he said, “I won’t do my screen time today until I think of something else that you say is ok.”

In the end, and through his own initiative, Simon decided he would like to give up complaining for the remainder of Lent, which to me was yet another reminder of our God’s abundant sense of humor.


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