Thursday, September 26, 2013

#018 Why Parents Fail Their Student-Athlete

To start an editorial with that title may seem really gutsy on some levels, but in my experience, 9 out of every 10 parents who have had children in my programs are complete successes when it comes to parenting their student-athlete.  So, when I talk about "parent failure," I'm not talking about parents who are abusive or not present in their child's life and future.  I'm simply talking about the ones who can't stop living for their child.

I had a tumultuous high school and college basketball career.  I had the talent, size (6'1" point guard), work ethic, and drive.  I had a special skill set (court vision, strong handles, ambidextrous, unselfish, aggressive defender), but I lacked physical strength and confidence in myself.  I had a terrible self-worth.  I had loving parents and great family support.  I was encouraged to be my best and set high expectations.  The expectations I set for myself were realistic.  I would have loved to play at the Division I level or in the NBA, but I understood my limitations.  My dream was to be a part of the great legacy of leaders that had went through my outstanding small high school program.  I never cared if I scored a point.  I just wanted to be the captain and leader who made everyone better and kept the team fighting and working to be their best.  Unfortunately, my high school coach did not see me that way.  For whatever reason, he didn't believe in me or try at all to nurture me the way I needed and wanted to be.  What's funny is that I could take a beating.  You could scream and yell at me all day and run me until I turned blue, and I would come back for more.  I didn't need to be pampered or praised.  I needed opportunity and support.  PERIOD.  My high school coach wanted to be the leader of our team.  He wanted players to do as they were told and to follow his direction and his direction alone.  I wanted to be his conduit.  I wanted to be his field general that made sure his game plan was followed.  He wanted me to run the play, control the tempo, and play good defense.  He wanted me to be just another soldier.  At 17, that seemed way below my standards and not much has changed in my mind in over 20 years.

Within that context, my parents were a tremendous success in retrospect.  I had opponent coaches grab me after a game and tell me that I would be their starting point guard and leader if I played for them.  Random people would ask me on Sunday mornings at my parent's restaurant why I wasn't starting and playing more.  They wanted to know what I did wrong.  Everyone seemed to see my potential and abilities except for my high school coach.  My parents knew all of this and heard the same things.  They saw how hard all of this was for me.  They saw me go through great levels of depression and hopelessness.  They never stopped loving me and supporting me and inspiring me.  Because of their great love for me, they could have easily taken the next step and failed me, but they didn't.

You see, my parents didn't pick up the phone and call the Principal.  They didn't write a scathing letter to the School Board.  They didn't run their mouths off to their friends and neighbors.  They didn't say terrible things about the coach behind his back.  And, they never approached the coach with their disapproval of how I was being treated.

What they did was tell me to "buck up" and continue to work hard to be better and prove my worth.  They advised me to communicate with the coach and to ask questions and for direction.  They didn't allow me to quit on myself or my teammates.  They made me finish what I started with integrity and courage.  I definitely failed myself by believing more in my head coach than I did in myself, but my parents never failed me.

Most parents cannot see past the moment in front of them.  They see a hurt child and immediately try and fix the hurt.  Parents today are so focused on their child not failing (and hurting) that they end up doing exactly what they try so hard to avoid.  They strip their child of independence, confidence, personal growth, courage, and self-worth.  Instead of teaching their child to overcome their fear of the dark, they allow them to sleep with the lights on.  Instead of teaching their child how to properly and honestly value themselves, they strip their child of any potential growth by not allowing them to experience the bad that needs to come to better appreciate the good.

Well, my child is young for their age.  He doesn't handle confrontation well.  She's not comfortable talking to the coach.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.  They might as well say:

I have failed my child for so long that I have to keep doing it, or they will stop loving me.

The only way you can truly fail your child when it comes to sports is by not allowing them to fail, learn, and grow.  Failure is the only constant in sports.  Bill Russell failed.  Michael Jordan failed.  Phil Jackson failed.  Vince Lombardi failed.  They succeeded because the failure taught them the way to significance. 

I never achieved my potential as a player.  My college coach ended up treating me the same way as my high school coach, and I began to accept that it was me, not them.  As a veteran coach and parent some 20 years later, I know that is only partly true.  If it was me, it was because I played for the wrong people at the wrong time and at the wrong place.  I made choices that I have to own.  I cannot point a finger at someone else and say, "You failed me."  That's terribly unfair when I know that I personally didn't do enough for myself.

So, Mom and Dad, please don't ever stop loving your kids.  Don't ever make excuses for the confidence you have in them and love you have for them.  But, if you are making excuses for them, you have stopped loving them.  You have started to live for them.  The only way to encounter life is by embracing the good and the bad.  When you take the bad-half away from your kid, you have eliminated the part of their life that will allow them to learn perseverance, determination, courage and self-respect.

Do you know a single human being who you look up to who doesn't have those 4 characteristics? 

Just remember that the next time you think about picking up the phone and complaining about a coach or to a coach.  The coach just might be absolutely terrible at what he or she does, but that doesn't mean you and your child have to become terrible at what you do.

Success can be the only option if you go through failure to get there!   Have a great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary