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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Put me in, coach

Tom Feran wrote an interesting column earlier this week about helicopter parents.

We all know more than our fair share of parents who hover. Guess I didn’t realize how long the hovering lasts. Letting go is a scary thing, but we give our kids the best foundation we can and then send them on their way. It’s the natural order of life and when we don’t follow it we can inadvertently be setting our kids up for long-term life failures.

I know I’ll have to fight the compulsion to help my kids with their college applications and essays. But we must be mindful of the negative messages our interference sends. What are we telling our kids when we interfere with their life’s goals or college choices? It’s like saying, “Hey, we don’t think you can handle this or you’re not smart enough to handle this,” even when deep down we don’t feel that way.

Kids need to figure stuff out on their own. I’m even more convinced of the need to let my own kids do so after an article I wrote for The Plain Dealer about surviving the college roommate experience.

Susan Fee, a local counselor, has written a book: “My Roommate is Driving Me Crazy!” and the article was based on an interview with her about her book. How you live before you go to college affects how your will deal with communal living. Certainly those who come from larger families or who share a bedroom are better able to adjust.

But many kids today come to college from sprawling homes in which they have their own king-size bed and private bath. They often feel entitled to better or to privacy. But learning to live with someone else (even someone you're not very fond of) is a valuable skill. After all, how will kids learn to resolve conflicts and set boundaries when they live with a spouse if they can't manage in college?

Kids today rely heavily on technology as a primary means of communication. They need, with their parents help, to also develop good interpersonal communications skills. Fee explained that roommates will carry on fights through Instant Messenger even while they are in the same room! And kids are less likely to hang around dorm hallways and get to know one another when they can e-mail instead. Now I consider that very sad indeed. Some of the best conversations occurred in the hallway.

Part of growing up is learning how to advocate for yourself. But kids will never learn that valuable skill if parents keep running interference. As parents we feel uncomfortable letting our kids fail because we feel it’s a reflection on us if they do. But it’s time to let go of that notion because 1) it’s not about us and 2) we risk raising a generation of kids who don’t know how to speak up for themselves or make their own kind of magic. We had a real-world lesson just this week.

Ryan plays on the seventh-grade football team at his school. This is the first year of inter-scholastic sports for these kids and others like him around Ohio. For many it’s the first time someone other than dear old dad or a fellow parent is coaching them. No more club sports, no more rec ball, no more travel leagues (the bane of sports in my humble opinion). This is the big time. Now you’re playing for your school. The coaches are paid to do what they do. As parents, Danny and I will always defer to them. If our kids have a problem, THEY need to work it out.

Apparently after last week’s game, some parents expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the coaching staff about their sons’ lack of playing time. The coaches responded the next day with what I consider an incredibly well-crafted letter telling all parents (diplomatically) to butt out!

“As a general rule, we do not discuss playing time, player positioning or team strategy with parents,” he wrote. “Certainly, a player can inquire with a coach about ways to improve attitude or performance.

“Players play in a game based on a few criteria. First, attitude and effort in the classroom and in practice can affect playing time. Second, the ability to perform and apply what is taught in practice can affect playing time.”

In other words, if your child is not playing much, it’s up to THEM, not YOU to discuss with the coach how they can improve their playing time. Encourage your children to advocate for themselves. Ask them if they've done everything they can to play. Give them the words they need to get the conversation started. “Coach, what can I do to improve my playing time?” That lets the coach know that they are not blaming and that they are willing to do the work necessary to improve their performance.

What coach wouldn’t respect and value such an attitude from a player?

Ryan plays a lot in every game. He’s a good athlete, but that’s not why he plays so much. It’s more his attitude, effort and leadership. But he’s a kid, too, not quite 13 years old.

At Tuesday’s game, Ryan let his frustration get the best of him. He shoved a player who was trash-talking to him and nearly got into a fight with another player. He was angry and it showed. If I were his coach, I would have yanked him out of the game for attitude adjustment.

I explained to Ryan on the way home that night that his actions and mood set the tone for the game. When he’s up and encouraging his teammates, they respond in kind. When he’s frustrated and down, the energy of the team goes out like a deflated balloon. It’s a team sport for sure, but it only takes one person to fire up or deflate the bench.

That’s the responsibility and the burden of a leader. But I also know he is up to the task.

We’re proud of Ryan for the positive example he sets, especially for his younger brothers who watch and admire his every move. Patrick is not the ferocious athlete that Ryan is, but even after getting pancaked by a defender the size of his dad last Saturday, he recovered and got his helmet on and stood near the coach, ready to go back in.

Attitude and effort. That's the name of the game.

Sending prayers and good chi
Just talked to Jen. I’m on my way down to Columbus tonight to help her out with the impending birth. More from our state capital.

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