BEYOND THE NUMBERS
If you’re a typical sports parent, you’ve probably become somewhat of a numbers expert. Statistics have always been an important measure of an athlete’s success, especially at the professional level, but these days they’ve become an important part of the game at every level. There's never been more information available for analysis, regardless of your child's age or ability. Online programs allow us to track, celebrate, and publicize even the most advanced metrics for even the most meaningless games.
No matter who you are, when your child plays well, it’s easy to celebrate the numbers. We all feel that way. If you’re the parent who’s tracking your boy’s stats from the bleachers, you’re not alone. If you’re posting on your social media account the details of his latest impressive performance, you’re not alone. If you’re excited to let him know after the game that tonight he got his career-high, you’re not alone. As proud parents, we love celebrating those achievements.
But I want to challenge you today – if you’re serious about becoming a champion sports parent and serious about raising a champion of your own – to see beyond the numbers. Of course, in sports, the stats matter. They're one way to tell the story of the game your child has played. But those numbers don’t always tell the whole story. In fact, statistics can sometimes be pretty misleading. The fact-checking circus that follows our country’s Presidential debates is evidence that with some effort, you can manipulate the numbers to validate almost any point. The brainless Homer Simpson even confirmed, “You can come up with statistics to prove anything…forty percent of all people know that.” If a dolt like him can see that stats don’t always tell the whole story, surely you can, too.
Of course, in sports, the stats matter. They're one way to tell the story of the game your child has played. But those numbers don’t always tell the whole story.
Here’s what I mean. An athlete can have a career-game statistically, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve played like a champion. What if, for example, your son scores a new career-high, but it's obvious as you watch the game that he clearly hasn't given his best effort? Maybe it was a lucky night, where every shot found its mark and he scored more than ever, but did he play a great game in your eyes? What if, on that night, he’s treated his teammates, coaches, or opponents poorly? What if he’s pouted, sulked, or stomped around in the midst of some challenging, unexpected circumstance?
If you can’t see beyond the numbers, then those critical areas of weakness or deficiency will probably go unnoticed. And when you run up to your boy after the game, hug him tight and proclaim, “What a game! Your career high!,” you’ll be helping him look right past them, too. That’s because what you're emphasizing is what he's learning to value. Intentional or not, your words and actions are making a clear statement to your son: the number on the stat sheet is more important to me than the effort you gave, the way you treated people, or the courage and toughness you showed in the face of adversity.
At the same time, it’s entirely possible for an athlete to perform poorly, from a statistical standpoint, and yet still play like a champion. In fact, those nights – the ones that are filled with more challenge, struggle, and failure – they’re the ones that truly, accurately reveal those qualities that separate the best from everyone else. It says even more about who your child is – and, might I add, who his parents are – if he’s giving his very best, treating people well, and exhibiting that courage and toughness when things aren’t going his way.
So what am I saying, you should stop caring about the numbers? Not necessarily. If you’re tracking his stats from the bleachers, posting the details of his latest performance on social media, or feeling excited after the game to let him know how he’s done, so be it. You can continue to celebrate what you see in the numbers if you choose, but that's not all the champion sports parent sees. They see beyond the numbers, too.
If your child has a great statistical night, you should enjoy it. But instead of celebrating the numbers, maybe you can see – and help him see, too – how the numbers were actually a result or a by-product of those qualities he exhibited – the qualities possessed by a champion. Celebrate the effort, or the unselfishness, or the courage or toughness that led to the stat line. Help him connect the dots on why he had the performance he had, and in the process, help him see what it is you really love about watching him play.
If it’s not his night, believe it or not, you can still find something worth celebrating. In fact, as we said earlier, the challenges, struggles, and failures should provide more reason to celebrate his high-level performance in those most important areas. He probably won’t be as excited as you are, but the more you clarify for him what you really value, the more you’ll influence what it is he learns to value.
You need to see that even though all those numbers on the stat sheet seem important today, they’ll be irrelevant in no time. What lasts will be the qualities you’ve developed and cultivated that will lead your child to real, authentic success in life – even when his playing days are done. Those are the qualities that will separate him from everyone else and help define him as a champion, the qualities that exist beyond the numbers.
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