By Adam & Kristin Kleinert
Basketball season is a bustling time in the Kleinert household. It’s been like this for some years now and, though it’s a hectic time for our family, we honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, our oldest child’s first public outing (she’s now a freshman) was to attend a varsity basketball game at the ripe old age of five days. A typical week this time of year most often contains two to three games for our kids on a weeknight (plus practices), followed by one or two high school games on the weekend. This year is especially exciting as, for the first time, one of our own will be participating at the high school level.
You may have read in previous articles about falling into the concession stand trap. Yes, this is the time of year when we really have to keep our meal plans organized so that we don’t fall into old habits. However, the importance of healthfully feeding your family during busy sports seasons isn’t our FamFitter topic this month. Rather, we want to focus on something we feel is just as important to a child’s health and wellbeing.
(Please excuse us as I, Adam, take over the rest of this column – hence the use of “I” going forward – while Kristin watches closely and edits my missteps.)
I love that our kids are involved in sports for numerous reasons. Probably more than any basket, home run, win or even loss, however, the one thing I am most excited for my kids to encounter is simply the experience of being coached. To be given a direct instruction and be accountable for carrying out that task. To be held accountable even outside of the athletic arena. To be obligated to follow an order whether they fully agree or not.
Unfortunately, I believe the above rationale is no longer shared by too many these days. It seems athletes and parents from youth on up have much more control over coaches than at any time before. Players today conduct themselves as if they deserve instant gratification. If they don’t receive what they desire, it is far too common for the parent to immediately voice an opinion about the “injustice” that has surely occurred. (I hope my implied sarcasm is evident here.) Often, if all else fails and the athlete or family can’t seem to get exactly what they desire from a coach, the athlete just quits. I’ve mentioned before that I have been involved in youth and high school sports for many years and, sadly, I can’t count how many times I have seen this occur. Though the frequency rate in recent years has become staggering, I admit haven’t gotten used to it. It never fails to blow me away when the excuse I hear time and time again is: “I just don’t get along with the coach.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptional cases. For instance, if there is some sort of abuse taking place between a coach and athlete, then I hope the removal of a child from the situation isn’t the only action a parent takes. But when I hear someone state simply that they can’t get along with their coach, I inwardly cringe a little. OK…a lot.
Maybe I’m a product of my generation. Maybe I am just getting old. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all gotten out of hand. The bottom line, in my opinion, lies in this question: If we teach our children it’s OK to quit when they can’t get exactly what they want from an authority figure, then what are we teaching them about how to conduct themselves for the next 40 years? It’s ironic because, as adults, we actually look for opportunities to be coached. We even pay for it in the form of personal trainers, counselors, self-help books and life-coaches. We seek perspective in the areas in which we want to grow. Shouldn’t we be teaching our children to do the same?
On the last day of school my senior year, a couple of my baseball buddies and I decided to pull a fairly harmless prank with some water balloons. After we drenched our victims and our coach caught wind of the hijinx, he ordered each of us to run 175 foul poles (down and back was one) before we would be allowed to play in the next – and final – game of the season. You know what? Not one of us flinched at the punishment. None of our parents contacted him to complain, nor did anyone remark that the discipline was unfair. Truth be told, I would have run 500 before giving any thought to the idea that there may be some way out of it. Today, I’m able to call this coach a friend, but I admit that I’d probably still take off running if he asked me to do so.
My first realization concerning the advantage of having been coached came in college when I was no longer involved in sports. I was enrolled in a very competitive graphic design program. Most of my classmates had received extensive art and design education in high school when I had taken none, nor was I the most talented artist in the department. However, I quickly learned I had something many of my peers did not. I knew how to compete and loved the challenge surrounding it. I also knew how to embrace criticism from professors, thus helping me push to levels I didn’t know I could attain. Finally, I knew how to work as a team – even with people with whom I didn’t get along – when many others had not experienced that in a previous setting.
Today, my wife and I not only look forward to our children’s successes and accomplishments, but rather, the challenges that will undoubtedly come as they remain involved in athletics. We will listen when they have an objection to something a coach has requested. We will hear them out when they feel that they have been disciplined for an unwarranted reason. However, we will not intervene unless action is absolutely necessary. Instead, we will wait for them to leave the room, then look at each other and smile, knowing valuable life lessons are being experienced in those moments.
Parenting is HARD and, while we cannot expect someone else to do it for us, we are blessed to have others who help in the journey. I urge you to embrace the wisdom and perspective athletic endeavors can instill in your prodigy. Let your kids run the foul poles. Let them be coached.