Over the past decade, I have coached hundreds (perhaps thousands…) of children through local youth sports teams. Whether it is on the soccer field, the track, the t-ball diamond, or in the swimming pool it is easy to tell the children who are expected to tenaciously work hard and problem solve at home.
I studied psychology in college, and am a firm believer that good work habits and problem solving skills need to be ingrained in children from a very early age. Learning to work hard and finish with pride gives them confidence and teaches them to be positive contributors to their team, their community, and their country.
Although it is a natural human tendency to want to smother our children and complete tasks for them, it is so important to not give into that tendency, and rather instead to empower them to complete tasks on their own. There are times, as a parent, when I have to let go. I have to believe in my girls and allow them to work through a task even when it challenges them. Challenges teach tenacity—they inspire confidence—and they reinforce the importance of digging deep to be able to finish strong.
My oldest daughter, Ashley Grace, is blessed with an incredible verbal ability—she has the vocabulary of a college student and expresses herself well both when publicly speaking and writing. She is a 12 year old walking dictionary…
She is not a natural problem solver. If something is broken or if anything needs to be done that requires mechanized equipment, she calls her younger sister Megan to do it. Megan is not a walking dictionary, but she is an incredibly resourceful problem solver…
Last weekend our lawn mower was broken. Matt was in the middle of planting alfalfa, so I knew that our mower would not get fixed before the grass was tall enough to hide my youngest daughter Karyn (Matt is the mechanical problem solver in our marriage—can you tell which of us each of the girls take after?!). Matt’s parents have a mower similar to ours, so we borrowed it for the weekend.
I gave the task of mowing the grass to Ashley Grace. I took a few minutes to show her how to operate the mower and then headed off to get Karyn ready for her soccer game. Ashley Grace was not keen on the idea of mowing and, consequently, did not pay much attention when I was showing her how to run it. It took her a long time to mow our large lawn, and before she was finished she had christened the mower with a new name: the hell wagon.
Perhaps the lawn would have gotten mowed faster if I had done it for her…Perhaps she would have exerted less frustration and fewer tears if I had done it for her…Perhaps she would have had a more enjoyable afternoon reading a book. None of those were the point. The point was that I gave her the instruction and tools that she needed to complete the task—I expected her to complete the task—She learned by completing the task.
Whether I am parenting my own children or coaching someone else’s, I believe that it is my job to empower the next generation to strive for greatness. In order to harness the power of our youth, I must first empower them to believe in themselves and want to excel.