Behaving on the Sidelines: Finding Ways to Engage with Our Young Athletes
It’s that time of year again. The trees are turning and it is time for fall sports to begin. For my family, that means soccer. For you, it may mean football, volleyball, fall baseball, or a combination of activities.
Our family is ready. We’ve washed last season’s sweat stains from the shin guards, found the correct size soccer balls, and purchased snacks for the team. Several weeks ago, my family started the countdown, as we all get excited for the season to commence. Because crisp fall mornings on the fields watching kids work hard and do something they love is fun, most of the time.
As adults, we hold a significant role when it comes to children’s athletics. The few and bravest of us will volunteer to coach. To you, I say “thank you.” The repeated pleas for more coaches were hard to read but I honestly just didn’t want to do it. Someone had to, so thank you for answering the call.
For the rest of us…the leftover parents, the grandparents, the aunts, uncles, and occasional neighbors, teachers, pastors, and neighbors who sit along the sidelines watching the games…we, too, have a great responsibility.
As I have sat along the sidelines for many seasons now, I have learned a few things about myself, about the players, and about our tendencies as spectators. I have some thoughts for all of us…
Let us remember who the coach is. Honor them by letting them coach. Remember that they answered the call to step in and we did not. Thank them for their time. Recognize that no matter how organized and assertive they are, some practices may still resemble herding cats. Give them grace when they forget to rotate players in a fashion that allows each player to have the same amount of playing time. Notice that they are doing something risky but beneficial when they allow a player to try their hand in the goalie box for the first time because the child had bravely shared that they’d like the chance to give it a go. Remember that they are trying to stay focused on introducing your child to the sport while nurturing their interest and eventual love of the game. Encourage them by telling them what they are doing well. If there are legitimate concerns, go to them privately and express them in an adult manner with a foundation of respect. Much of the same can be said for how we honor the officials. Keep in mind that kids watch how we interact with and respond to authority. Our children see how we treat the officials…whether we question, argue, or consider their calls ridiculous.
Let us remember that the players are kids. They are not college athletes and they are certainly not professionals. I have been watching my kids play soccer for years now, and I still get confused when we talk about “off-sides”. I’m getting closer, but people, let me tell you that it has taken a while for my mind to make sense of it. And if my “developed brain” has struggled to catch on to this rule, can we agree that our kids are working really hard to soak in a lot of new concepts. They are consistently being introduced to new skills and rules each time they are on the field. Cognitively, a child’s brain functions in a highly concrete manner of reasoning until reaching adolescence where they grow in their ability to think logically about possible scenarios and abstract ideas. We, the adult spectators, can not only quite literally view more of the field than the players on it, but we are also thinking with adult reasoning brains, therefore again viewing the field and the possibilities from a different perspective.
Let us resist talking negatively about our own children or another person’s child. Just don’t do it. Don’t talk about how clumsy they are because their body hasn’t caught up with the size of their feet. Don’t talk about how they are too slow or lazy on the field. Don’t talk about how they should have made the goal after they obviously didn’t make it. Don’t talk about how they should have stopped the goal that obviously went between their legs. Don’t talk about how your team would have won if so and so had done their job. DO intentionally look for specific ways to encourage and affirm them. Look for ways that demonstrate that they are enjoying the game, focusing hard, making steps towards mastering a skill, or treating their team and coach with respect and kindness.
Let us find ways to interact well with our kids immediately following their game. When your child runs up to you after their game, pause your adult conversations and engage with your child. Be ready to do this because it is really important to them. They may have been waiting patiently through the entire game to see how you will respond to them. Don’t worry about having too many words at this time. Let them know with your eyes and your smile that you are proud they are your child no matter how they played. Hug them. Kids always want to know that their people are proud of them. Heck, adults like to know this too…but that’s a topic for another time.
Consider the conversation in the car ride home. Be balanced. Resist pointing out all of the ways that they could have worked harder or played better. Choose your words wisely because they’re really only going to take in a portion of them. Better yet, draw thoughts out of them by asking good questions. Ask them what they learned today as they played. Ask them what was most fun. Ask them how they noticed their team working together. Ask them if anything was hard for them today. But in this process, we must remember that they will clue us in when they are done talking and we must try to honor this. Bulldozing past their desire to move on to a different conversation is usually more about our need to “coach more and make them better” than actually wanting to engage in a meaningful way. My boys tend to give us fairly bold cues that they are ready for a shift in topic…generally it has something to do with what we are going to eat for lunch or what are plans are for the rest of the day.
Lastly, try not to take it all too seriously.Let your kids see you cheer, laugh, and enjoy the process. Think about letting them coach you at home by teaching you what they are learning. Quite literally…grab the ball and ask them to teach you a skill they are attempting to master. Let go of control. Resist correcting them as they coach you. (Hint: If there is arguing, it may be that you may need to resist correcting even more.) Demonstrate how to listen, respond, and engage in the process with eagerness and a willing mind. They’ll be grateful you did…and your relationship will be grateful too.
Increasing My Capacity to Love Through My Willingness to Be Uncomfortable
Just like you, I have watched the news clips and I have read the articles. I have felt the anger and I have even felt moments of fear. I have felt deep sadness as I have watched the events unfold. Human fighting human. Hate lashing out. Fear lashing out. Darkness being revealed.
I want to love deeper because Jesus requests this of me.
I’ve called on Jesus to transform my heart and have asked Him to reveal the ways I have bought into hate, bought into fear.
I’ve written my post encouraging us towards more.
I attended an event declaring hope for love and unity and I lit my candle with all of the others in attendance.
But it doesn’t seem like enough.
Because I face this dilemma…
A dilemma that I am not proud to admit.
But nonetheless, here it is…
I realize that I am just a few steps away from fading back into the world of pretending that there is not a human against human problem. A problem that leads to humans beating other humans with flags and torches and fists. A problem that leads to humans spraying fire from aerosol cans, and throwing rocks and punches. A problem that leads to cars being driven into crowds with the intention of devastation.
I watched these horrific images as they were occurring two short weeks ago. I saw similar images in the days that followed. They continue. The stories haven’t gone away. And yet…I am just steps away from slipping back into my alternate reality where it didn’t really happen…where it’s not still happening. And I recognize that this is not okay.
If I actually believe that love is necessary to change this human against human problem, I genuinely MUST be willing to increase my capacity to love. Like our physical bodies that do not become stronger unless they are pushed out past their limits, my capacity to love is increased through my stretching and moving beyond what is comfortable for me today.
I must ask myself who I am uncomfortable loving. Ugh. I know…I really just said that.
And because today I am referring to the type of love that is demonstrated through my actions, I am asking the deeper question of who I am uncomfortable interacting with. I am asking this question because it leads me to a deeper truth about myself. I am asking this question because I actually have answers. When I ask myself who I am uncomfortable interacting with, I find out who I struggle to love.
I am far from proud to admit this, but there are people groups that I avoid. I avoid them with my presence. I avoid them with my words. I avoid them with my eyes. And this is not love.
I am grieved by the way my avoidance adds to this human against human problem.
And so today, I commit to stretch my capacity to love. I commit to make myself uncomfortable so that what is uncomfortable today may become comfortable tomorrow.
I will lift up my head and stop avoiding with my presence, with my words and with my eyes.
I will choose to say hello. I will choose to smile. I will choose to wave. I will choose to ask, “How are you?” and wait patiently for a response. I will choose to do this especially when I know I am uncomfortable. How can I live out Jesus’ command to love my neighbors if I keep pretending that some of them aren’t even there?
I know that these actions may seem small and insignificant to some. That’s okay.
For me and for any of the rest of us knowingly a few steps away from slipping back into the alternate reality that everything is just fine, would you consider another option?
Ask yourself the hard question…who do you struggle to love?
Take an uncomfortable step…say hello. Wave. Ask them about their day. Listen.
Know that these steps are good. Simple as they may sound.
Despite the awkward.
Despite the discomfort.
Change occurs through the awkward.
Change occurs through the discomfort.
Thoughts on Leaving an Emotional Inheritance
Most of us are familiar with the idea of receiving an inheritance. Most often, an inheritance refers to what is passed along from our parents. The inheritance generally comes from our parents’ abundance. It may be in the form of land, money, collectibles, family heirlooms, etc. In some situations, the inheritance may come in less desirable forms such as debt or storage sheds of unattended-to chaos.
In the counseling world, I see evidence of a different type of inheritance that is passed along from one generation to the next… the emotional inheritance.
When a parent does not deal appropriately with their emotions, the “responsibility” (of dealing with the emotions) generally gets picked up by someone else within the family, typically a child. Children recognize when the family is out of balance and desire peace just like we do.
Here is where the difficulty lies…the child is not equipped to deal with the emotions because they likely have not been appropriately trained to do so AND because the emotions do not actually belong to them. Therefore, accomplishing the task of achieving the desired state of peace becomes one that often feels out-of-reach. Even if the child does accomplish the task of momentarily manufacturing peace, it certainly feels unstable to them…sort of like placing masking tape over the hole in the bottom of a boat, feeling confident for a moment, and then wondering when the water is going to come flooding back in, once again disrupting the peace of the passengers.
While an emotional inheritance could be any emotion on the spectrum of emotions, I most often observe it in the forms of anxiety, anger, and persistent unhappiness.
If you are reading this article through the lens of being a parent, I want to pause you before you get lost in a shame spiral believing you have permanently damaged your children. These thoughts are unhelpful and will likely just lead you to a deeper place of believing you are incapable of appropriately dealing with your emotions. Remember that children are amazingly resilient and full of grace and that our brains are miraculously capable of learning new patterns of seeing and responding to situations.
While I am certain to talk more about learning to appropriately cope with emotions in future articles, I want to at least boldly clarify that we as parents are not expected to be perfect. In actuality, our children do not need to possess the expectation that perfection is the goal. There’s a whole slew of other problems that come from this line of thinking! What our children do need is for us as parents to take ownership for what is ours. For me, this means that when I am grieving, I let my children know that I am having a hard day thinking about my father. I let my boys know that it’s okay that I am grieving, that I would love a hug, but that they do not need to feel responsible for making the grief go away. And then…I do the personal work to deal with my grief.
For me, it also means that when I am feeling anxiety over facing a new situation, and my children pick up on my shortened patience or my distracted presence, I let them know that there is a new experience that is creating some anxiety for me. I let them know that sometimes this happens when we face challenges and that I am working to remind myself of my value regardless of the outcome of the situation. And then, I do the work to actually do just that.
Having these types of conversations remind our children that we are responsible for our emotions just like we expect them to become responsible for their own emotions.
If you are reading this article not through the lens of being a parent but through the lens of being the child, I want to pause you before you get lost in a resentment spiral of thinking your parents have permanently wrecked your life. This line of thinking is also unhelpful and leads to feeling powerless. If in fact, you have already received an emotional inheritance that is undesirable, let’s face the facts that you unknowingly accepted it and that now it is your responsibility to find ways to appropriately deal with the emotions or figuratively (or quite literally) give the task back to the person to whom it originally belonged. Doing so frees you so that you might be equipped to pass along a new emotional inheritance to the future generations.
When we lean into the process of facing our stuff, there is such healing that awaits. Let’s not lose sight of this. While we are capable of passing along an undesirable emotional inheritance, we are just as capable of passing along an emotional inheritance full of beauty and life. I see this evidence as I look at my own children.
My oldest is incredibly confident and excited about life. My youngest is full of humor and loves people deeply. These aspects are part of the desirable emotional inheritance. The undesirable items…they are there as well…and we are a family in process…working to take back the unattended to stuff that is actually ours…sort of like the storage shed of chaos that deserves our attention before our children believe it’s theirs to bring back into order.
Our Influence on Our Children’s Internal Dialogue
Some time ago, I had the insight that as I interact with my children, I am significantly influencing the voice they will hear in their mind as they grow and experience life. Particularly, as they struggle, my voice, even when I am not physically present, will be one that they hear.
Wow! Sit with that for a moment. The influence we have as parents is intense and it oh so humbling.
If you are doubting that we have as much influence as I am suggesting, pause for a moment and think about what it’s like when you are stressed. Think about the messages that are firing off in your mind. Try tracing them back. Try thinking about who else speaks in a similar manner. It’s more than likely someone you knew early in your life.
Obviously, there are the other voices that factor into one’s internal dialogue mash-up…the other parent, caregivers, peers, teachers, grandparents, coaches, one’s relationship with God, etc. But how our voice is represented…that is what we have the most power to influence.
If we lived and chose our words with our children today like we knew that our words will some day become a part of their internal dialogue, would we speak with a different tone and would we choose different words?
Let me be real for a moment. I am not a perfect parent. There, I said it.
Some time ago, when I had the realization that my voice is one my sons will hear when they struggle, it was because I heard my words come out of their mouths. For one child, it happened when he was working on a preschool assignment of writing his alphabet. “These aren’t good enough”, he said. And he’d erase them…over and over again. And then, it morphed into expressions that he would never complete the task but somehow needed to hurry to get it done. I recognize I am providing an example that may seem insignificant, but writing assignments for preschoolers are the types of challenges they face. I’ve also seen it play out as my kids have struggled through piano lessons, soccer games, homework projects, and relationships.
Before you go down the road of self-shaming and thinking you have already messed up as a parent in an unrepairable way, I want you to hear some really good news.
It is NEVER too late to ask for forgiveness.
We are wired for forgiveness.
I see evidence repeatedly as I interact with friends and as I engage with clients. The change when forgiveness occurs is observable. Crossing over the threshold of forgiveness leads us to peace and unity. It is a deeply emotional and spiritual process. I’ll talk more about forgiveness in the future, but for now, hear me say that forgiveness has intense healing power. Healing power that can even repair damaging internal dialogue.
So let me keep going with more good news. Even though asking for forgiveness is humbling and can feel fairly uncomfortable at times, it doesn’t have to be complicated!
When we mess up as a parent, when our words have been too harsh, too anxious, too critical, or too angry, admit it. Be specific. I have shared with my children that when I feel stressed, I can become impatient and hurried. I have shared that sometimes I do not offer myself the grace for things to be ‘good enough’. I tell them that I am sorry that I have spoken with the words and the tone relaying these messages to them. I give them a better option…reminding them what offering encouragement and compassion and kindness to myself sounds like. I ask for their forgiveness and 100% of the time they offer it.
I walk away more empowered to speak to myself with encouragement and compassion and kindness… because it’s more likely to pour out of me if I’m pouring it in.
And those words, that tone…that’s what I want them to offer themselves when they struggle.
Paralyzed by Compassion
In my experience as a therapist, anxiety can, at times, overwhelm even the most functional individuals. It can lead to feeling hopeless….like there is no way out. It can lead to feeling helpless…like there is nothing you can do. Anxiety can lead to a physical and cognitive sense of paralysis. If you’ve experienced significant anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.
Over the past days, as I have looked through articles and horrifying images of the chemical weapons attack in Syria, I have ridden quite the pendulum of emotions.
I have felt deep sadness. As I looked at the devastated man holding his dead 9-month-old twins, I experienced flashes of my own story. I have wept tears for him and for the other men and women who have watched their children and family members die in an unbearably heinous way.
I have felt that anxiety that I initially spoke of. The kind that overwhelms and paralyzes. I have had to look away and catch my breath because the words and images were too much for my heart to take in.
We SHOULD be affected when we see others hurting. We SHOULD feel deeply for them. This is empathy. Empathy leads to compassion. Compassion leads to action.
But sometimes we don’t get through that full equation. Sometimes the taunting of the anxiety stops us in our tracks before we move to action. It tells us, “There’s no hope. There’s no helping. There’s nothing you can do about it.” That’s where the paralysis sets in and numbing your emotions or avoiding feeling it all again seems like the quickest and least painful way out. Here is what I have noticed, sometimes inaction is not just a product of not caring but it can also be a product of feeling overwhelmed by caring.
Because I have experienced anxiety in my life and because I have sat with dozens of individuals who experience anxiety on a regular basis, I want to gently whisper these words to you. Focus on taking just one step. And know that it is good.
Contrary to what the anxiety may be telling you, you do not have to have the perfect solution. Your compassionate actions do not have to be THE answer. Take just ONE step. Focus on doing ONE thing. ONE action. When the anxiety tells you there is nothing you can do, do ONE thing. When the anxiety convinces you we are all doomed, do ONE thing. When the anxiety makes you think you are insignificant, do ONE thing. And know that it is good.