Our Children Are Amazing – So why do we keep messing with them?

What if we looked at our youth, as they learn, grow and change in the same way we are in awe and appreciation of the changing of the leaves in the season.

I find out too often that we are worried about what our children will become rather than appreciate who they already are. I remember when my kids were young I got so caught up in their future that I forgot to just sit back and enjoy who they were, what they had already accomplished and trust that they would learn and grow in their own time.

When my son Mason learned to walk, it was not because I yelled at him, motivated him or challenged him. Instead, when he was ready, he got up and fell down then got up again and fell down again, until eventually, he learned to walk. It did not matter what the book said about what age he “should” be crawling or walking, he just wanted to walk, so he did. He had the desire inside him to walk and no matter what we said or what obstacles came in his way, he was determined to walk.

I believe our children have an innate desire to do things, that “they” want. If we take that lesson and use it with our children in school, sports or anything that we would like them to excel at, you might be surprised at what I’m about to say.

I think the most important thing we should be doing for our children is to encourage them to find their passion and second is that it is okay to fail. I believe it is most important for us to create an environment where our children fall in love with the activities they are involved with and then being okay when they fail.

Actor, Will Smith says that kids should “Fail early, Fail Often and Fail Forward.” Hall of Fame Quarterback, Joe Montana taught me, “Fail Fast, Fail Forward.” A very similar message. To me, this means that we should encourage our children to find things that they enjoy, give them the freedom to try it, without our help or judgment.

I feel I had an amazing childhood, and when I look back, I had very little interference with adults. In fact, most of my learning outside the classroom was done with friends, classmates, neighbors and teammates. We played because we loved to compete with our friends. We played because we loved the game. We played because we were having fun. We did not play because it was going to “teach” us “life lessons” nor at age 10 were we concerned with getting a college scholarship. Instead, we just played for the love of the game.

If we go back and look at my son’s journey to walk, we will see that it was not my desire or teaching him to walk that helped him to learn, it was his own desire and resolve to walk. By giving him the freedom to fail, fall down, get back up and continue to try without judgment, (encouragement yes!) but it was his desire that led to his eventual success.

“Children are more in need of role models than critics.” –Coach Hall of Fame Basketball Coach John Wooden

As parents, way too often, we tend to look at our children’s failures. We look at their grades, and their inability to hit a baseball or make a basket as failure, rather than focusing on their effort and the joy that they are having. As adults we learn that it is not all about the destination, rather we need to enjoy the journey. I believe we must allow our children the same freedom if we would like them to create a healthy self confidence and ability to desire to participate and try new things.

In my over 30 years working in youth sports, coaching, teaching and being a father, I have found that my kids have grown the most when they loved what they chose to be involved. They were challenged and I encouraged them, but ultimately left them alone to figure it out for themselves.

So how do we teach our children to compete or find a desire to participate in activities that we, the parents, believe it could be good for them to try?

Here are a few things that I have found that have helped me to encourage my kids to do things without causing resentment.

  • Get involved.
    It does not matter your individual skill, it matters that you are willing to do it with them… One reason that I believe that I excelled in basketball was because of my mom. Although she was an artist and not very skilled in basketball, she would go outside with me and rebound the ball. To be honest, it is one of my best memories with her—just hanging out and shooting baskets. She did not coach me or try to teach me, instead she just rebounded and was in amazement when my shots went in.
  • Focus on the effort rather than results.
    Although my mom was excited for me when I made a basket, she truly enjoyed watching me play. She was just happy that I was trying my best, learning from the coaches and learning to compete. It didn’t make a difference to her if we brought home a trophy. She would always ask me how much fun did I have, what did I learn from the game and what was my favorite part of playing. There was no pressure to succeed, rather a true sharing of enjoyment for the game.
  • Allow and even encourage mistakes.
    It may sound crazy, but our kids will learn more from failing at an early age than they will if they succeed. That being said, the focus on effort rather than result is extremely important. By encouraging our kids to push themselves, to continue to play, and give it 100% of their effort—they will learn valuable lessons that translate off the court as well.
  • Use positive reinforcement.
    I am not saying that bribing your kids is the way to go, but I have found that my kids were always more engaged when we had rewards established rather than punishments. I also found that if I stayed positive, it helped them to stay positive as they learned to compete.
  • Get some help. It has been proven time and time again, that any child who attends a skills clinic prior to the season has a much better chance of understanding the game, have better skill development and more confidence. Even one day clinics can help your child to be more excited and engaged about their season.

My kids have challenged me and I know that I have not always gotten it right. What I have learned is that if we want our children to find joy in an activity, sport, music, art or scholastics, we need to be okay with them choosing their own path. Allow others to help teach and coach them. Allow them to fail from time to time and get on the same page with their coaches and teachers. Lastly, and this might be the most important, let them know daily that they have unconditional love and support.

The ride—parenting young children, goes way too fast. I truly hope that you take the time to enjoy who your kids are now and enjoy the process of watching them become even more amazing. If you blink you will miss the greatest show on earth. Your kids!

By Coach Aaron Locks