All seven of my children played sports while they were growing up and I can tell you that there is hardly anything that can compare to the joy, frustration, triumph and disappointment of watching our kids compete.
There's no denying that parents receive a jolt of pride when seeing their child get a crucial base hit, score a winning touchdown or dribble the ball down the court and sink a great shot. After all, that's our child out there and when they play like a champion, we feel like a champion. As soon as the game begins we feel this unbelievable emotion in seeing our own flesh and blood succeed. It's what many psychologists call that vicarious attitude that overwhelms us in youth sports, where it's not my child that is out there...it's me. This emotion soon takes over in full force and leads to a roller coaster of good, and sometimes bad, emotions.
The bad side of these emotions can have lasting effects and that is when you suddenly find that your child is not the athlete you hoped he or she would be. And in turn, there's a lot of suffering that goes on -- for the child and the parent.
I'll relate a story to illustrate how a parent, disappointed that his child wasn't even interested in sports, will go to any length to make the child into something he isn't. Why are some parents willing to go to all this trouble? Quite simply, because they want to look good in front of their friends, neighbors, people they work with, etc. It's a status thing. Some need a flashy new car; some need the newest electronic gizmo; and some need that athletic child who will someday turn out to be a major league star. The sad thing is that far too many parents aren't willing to settle for a child who is, well, just a nice kid.
Since my sport was wrestling, early in my career I would hold a summer wrestling camp that was designed to help high school wrestlers get better at their skills. During the first week of signups I would have the participants pair up with someone to do the basics of wrestling. On the first day one of the participants came up to me and said, "Hey, I thought this camp was for kids who wrestled in high school."
I said, "You're right. What's the problem?" He said that the kid he was paired up with didn't know the first thing about wrestling and that he was only there because his father made him come to the camp.
That night I called his father and informed him that his son wasn't in the same class as the kids that were there and that I would refund his money. The father became furious and insisted that I keep him in the camp. I told him ok, but wanted him to know that after observing his son he would be wasting his money leaving him there.
His response was, "There's no way in hell I am going to let my friends know that my kid flunked out of a wrestling camp on the first day."
I let the boy stay for the week but let him observe rather than try to compete with the others and risk getting hurt.
At the end of the week the father came to pick him up and I was forced to ask him why he would put his kid through such an ordeal. He confided in me that he wanted to toughen his kid up because all the other kids in the neighborhood were bullying him.
The bottom line is that while we love to take pride that our kids will be successful athletes we need to remember that all kids simply aren't going to be athletic...and that they will still survive very well in this world.
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