Do you have the right equipment?
Earlier this week a coach shared a story with me about a recent experience he had at baseball practice. The team has only been together for a couple of weeks, so the coaches are still getting to know the kids, their strengths and their weaknesses. On top of that, these are boys between the ages of 9 – 12, so developmentally they are all over the map. Many of the boys are trying to learn how to coordinate their big feet and lanky bodies. As you can imagine, all these things put together can make it difficult to pinpoint the best way to coach the boy to help him improve his skills. A couple of the boys have been struggling to hit the ball. In talking to one boy, the coach discovered he had just gotten a new pair of glasses and didn’t want to wear them during the game in case they got broken. The coach asked if he still had his old glasses and if he could see using the old glasses. The boy sheepishly admitted yes to both. The coach made a deal with the boy that if he wore the glasses and got a hit in the next game, the coach would give him a prize. The boy agreed and I’m sure he will approach every at bat with a little more focus so that he can win the prize. A short time later, the coach was watching another boy when he noticed the boy was hesitating every time he swung the bat. He called the boy over and realized the bat he was using was longer and heavier than the other boy’s bats. He switched the bat he was using and sent him back to the batter’s box. The boy swung at the first pitch and sent it into the outfield. Pitch after pitch he connected. The boy started smiling from ear to ear. His body language completely changed, he stood taller, he was more confident and was having a lot more fun, all because of a small change in equipment.
These examples make me wonder, how many times are we showing up with the wrong equipment? Life is so busy, it’s easy to get into a routine and just grind it out in the same way every day. Or we may know something we are doing is not working, but we figure it’s too difficult to stop long enough to change, so like the boy above, we just continue to use a bat that’s too heavy. The “equipment” we use daily could be tied to our schedule and our time management skills. Are we overloading ourselves with things to do because we struggle to say no? Or do we take on too much because we feel we are supposed to do all these things? What would happen if we re-evaluated the way we think about how we spend our time.
Or maybe the “equipment” you are using in a situation is not equipment at all, maybe it’s your mindset. Do we ever stop to think “why do I think that?” or “where did that belief come from?” We can easily get a thought stuck in our head and accept “this is just the way it is”, but is it possible we would see things differently, if like the boy above, we put on glasses, to examine why we think that? Or what if we looked at it from a different perspective? If a situation seems hard, are we slowing down long enough to see what we can do to improve? Or have we resigned ourselves to the fact “life is hard”, this is the hand we were dealt?
I realize asking these questions won’t heal sickness or help you pay off your credit card, but you can look at your approach to the situations that are challenging you. Examine the skills you are using; do you need to learn more by researching or asking for help from a professional. Or it is a case where by changing your “equipment” you would see a shift? In our frantic day to day life, it’s easy to forget there is always room for improvement. You never know how one little shift, one change in the bat you’re using, could set everything else in motion. Soon you too could be smiling from ear to ear.
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Even if you are not a sports fan, if you have turned on the TV in the last two weeks chances are you have seen something about the college basketball play-offs. Fondly referred to as March Madness, this play-off structure allows 68 teams to compete for the title of best in the land. I love watching the tournament because it is unpredictable. Of course, you have your traditional power house teams where their players use the tournament as an interview process for the NBA. But the majority of players that take the court are playing for the love of the game. They take all their passion and grit and pour it into the game they are playing. The result is that many times the underdog wins and to watch the pure joy on the team’s faces, is unlike any other win in sports.
In relation this tournament, “madness” is a good thing. It’s tied to the excitement and unpredictability of the tournament. Too often though I see another level of “madness” that happens at sporting events in the stands with the parents. There’s always at least one parent who is cheering a little louder, and a little more negatively, than the rest. They shout at the referee/umpire, or the coach and sometimes even the young players. Those parents are hard for me to listen to because it seems as though they’ve forgotten the ages of the kids playing and that we are all supposed to be playing for fun. In talking to one mom this week she said “Does that really still happen?” In my experience, yes, unfortunately it does still happen, there’s always at least one, but why?
Sports is a huge part of our culture and cheering on a favorite team is part of everyday life. But when our kids start playing, it becomes clear how much emotion sports brings out in people. As parents, we worry about our kids; will they make friends? We are excited for them; will they have fun? We are afraid for them; will the coach treat them fairly in their playing time? We get frustrated for them, knowing they can do it in practice but when the pressure is on during the game, will they freeze up? We anticipate the rewards of their success; will they learn the skills to be a good player? We want this to be a great experience for them and when it comes to sports, having a great experience, we have high hopes for their success. They don’t have to be a professional athlete, but wouldn’t it be nice if they could at least get a scholarship? Our parental visions and fantasies can easily start to get the best of us.
In an article posted by CNN, they found that seventy percent of children leave organized sports by the age of 13. The article also quotes John O’Sullivan from Changing the Game Project "As I say to all the parents at my parents talks, 'This isn't a sports issue. This is a wellness issue,' " said O'Sullivan, citing how this generation is the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and it's due to inactivity. "We know all the benefits of activity from better grades to less drugs, less pregnancy, more likely to go to college and on and on and on and yet at the same age when most kids are walking away from sports is that critical age where if they're active then, they're likely to be active for life." Wow, when you put it in those terms it’s easy to see that this is about a lot more than winning and losing. The article also goes on to say that one of the reasons many kids quit is the pressure they feel from their parents. Kids shared that the car ride home was their least favorite part of the game because they knew they would get grilled with questions by their parent.
The unpredictability and competition side of sports makes it exciting to watch. But when it comes to our kids, sometimes we have to remind ourselves of all the other benefits to participating in sports. Sports is a chance for them to learn and grow not only their physical skills, but their social skills in a team environment and maybe most importantly, a chance to continue to develop their own unique personality. They get to try new things and see how with practice you can improve your skills. They don’t have to be the star of the team for sports to help them improve their self-esteem that comes with a great play. Sure, these are all pretty obvious when you stop to think about them, but it’s all too easy to get swept up in the emotions on the sidelines. So as the spring season starts, let this be a gentle reminder to leave the “madness” to college basketball. Go out and watch your kids have fun.
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Originally posted 1/4/14
My five-year-old is a sports nut, anything that has a ball he wants to play, watch and then play some more. Anyone who has watched a sporting event on TV can attest to the fact that nearly every play is followed by an instant replay, often in slow motion. In the event that a replay is not shown, our TV allows us to rewind the play ourselves so that we can watch and re-watch as many times as we would like. Because of this, every game played in our house, including board games, involves at least one replay showing how the action unfolded.
On one hand, the replay can be a strong teaching tool. By looking at how we did something, we can look at it again to find areas to improve so that we can do it better/different the next time. We can also look at the replay of how someone else did something or handled a specific situation and we can learn from them as well.
On the other hand, the replay can create a never-ending loop that leads to insanity. Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, let me explain. The replay also used in our house for each child to recount the grave injustice that their sibling has committed against them. After the initial replay, I am provided with the camera angle from the other child’s perspective, which naturally tells a slightly different story. Unlike the replay official, I don’t get to go hide under a hood to think about and decide which camera angle shows it best. I have to make an immediate decision to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible. Like any sporting replay, my rulings on the field are usually met with cheers from some fans and groans from others. The most important part is that play resumes.
Play resumes. They keep going and within minutes the incident is all but forgotten (or replaced by the next replay). They learn from it, accept it and move on. If only it were always that easy - but who’s to say it always has to be as complicated as we make it?
One last thing, don’t forget that when you pull together all the replays and keep the best ones, you get a highlight reel.
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When we first learn we are going to have a baby, we spend hours thinking about what they are going to look like and what kind of personality they will have. We think about all the activities they can be a part of and dream that maybe they’ll be talented enough to get a scholarship! We wait (im)patiently through the first year of parenthood when the baby can’t “do” anything. (This is sometimes hardest on the dads.) When the baby can finally sit up and start walking, the balls and sports equipment comes out. There is so much more they can do! In our sports-minded culture (some may say sports obsessed), parents teach children basic sports skills at a very young age.
As soon as a child can kick or throw a ball, parents look to sign them up for an organized sport. There are so many options! (That’s a little weird right? There is this entire industry created to cater to the parents of 3-5-year-olds who can’t wait to get their kids into a sport.) How do you ever know what to pick? Many parents make the decision for their child. They sign them up for a sport without really knowing what they were getting into. Case in point was when we signed my four-year-old daughter up for soccer. One of her favorite teachers was going to coach a co-ed soccer team for 4 and 5-year-olds. She loved this “Coach” so I thought it was a great way to introduce her to team sports with a man that she already knew well (and whom we knew and trusted). My daughter seemed to love going to practice. She ran up and down the field, learned to kick a ball and enjoyed being with her friends. At that time, my son was a year old and had just started to walk. So, while she was practicing, we were walking all over the park trying to find anything that would hold his interest for 45-60 minutes. (That was certainly something I had not considered – how exhausting it would be to “entertain” the other child while one practiced. Let’s just say it was good exercise for me but exhausting on hot afternoons.) The time came, and the team was ready for the first game, they had practiced and somewhat knew the rules. But as soon as we were on the sidelines ready to go, my daughter grew roots and would not budge. She did NOT want to go out on the field! She hugged our legs, refused to budge and even shed a few tears. What was going on? I was not prepared for this scenario, I had no idea this was even possible. I didn’t expect her to be a super star, but I thought that she would at least go out, run around and have fun. I had no idea what to do. She sat with us on the sidelines for most of the game and eventually she gathered enough confidence to go out on the field for a couple minutes. This went on for a few games and by the end of the season, she was out there running around, looking at the clouds and picking grass just like many of the other kids on the field. In hindsight, do I think she was ready to play a sport? Honestly, I don’t really know. I think it was a good experience for her, but when we asked if she wanted to play another season she said no. (And we respected that.)
I talk to a lot of parents who ask, when is the right time to get my child involved in sports? This is a great question because I think you should ask yourself if this is the right time. In the case with our daughter, I didn’t give it much thought from that perspective. The opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it because that’s just what kids do, right? I fell into the trap like a lot of parents who are so excited to sign their kids up that they just do it. Now, having years to reconsider and witness hundreds of young kids playing sports, I think it’s important for parents to answer a few questions before signing their child up for sports:
These questions may seem very basic but based on the behavior of the parents that I’ve seen, few parents ask themselves these questions. Your children can greatly benefit from playing sports, but you need to make sure they are ready before you sign them up. Have a conversation with your child emphasizing the reason to play is to have fun and then let them decide what they want to do. One last thing, remember this is supposed to be fun for you too, enjoy watching them play.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.