FUEL FOR THE JOURNEY
Recently, as I was driving home, I passed a beautiful red sports car stopped along the side of the road. I’m not certain what kind of car it was – Ferrari, Porsche, something in that class. Whatever it was, it was impressive. Next to the car stood an exasperated man, sleeves rolled up, tipping a small gas can into the tank. He was obviously frustrated and annoyed. This guy wasn't going anywhere; his high-performance sports car had run out of gas.
I could sense his irritation as I passed him by, and I felt for him of course, but a part of me couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of the moment. This had to be the most elite, most expensive, most critically acclaimed vehicle in five counties – a car that had every advantage in style and performance over any other car on the road – and there it sat. In that moment, that car's five-star ranking was irrelevant. All those things it had didn't matter; it was the crucial element it didn’t have that mattered. If the goal was getting where it needed to go, even a beat up, rusted-out clunker was more valuable than that fancy, high-end coupe with an empty tank.
Like the many makes and models of cars we see on the road, each one of our kids is unique, too. Every young athlete is different. Some of us may be parenting the trendy sports car type – the elite level, high-performing superstars, decked out to meet even the most exacting specifications. Others of us might have more like the middle of the road, pre-owned family sedan type. Maybe he’s not all that impressive to look at in some ways – especially compared to the fancy sports car types – but he gets the job done. Some of us may even describe our young athlete as the beat up, rusted-out clunker. Nothing about him screams “high performance.” In fact, there’s a sense of relief if you can get his motor going at all today.
Each of our kids may be different, but what we all share is the responsibility we have to help them navigate the challenges of the road ahead. Each one of us will help determine who our young athlete becomes. If you’re here today, reading this newsletter, hopefully the goal is that your child becomes a champion. How he compares to anyone else is irrelevant; your goal is that he achieves his very best and reaches his full potential. That’s the destination you have in mind. Of course, reaching that destination isn’t easy. Becoming a champion is a long, challenging journey that requires a lot from both child and parent. It requires dedication and determination. It requires patience and persistence. But maybe most importantly, it requires fuel for the journey ahead.
So what fuels the champion athlete? What drives him toward his very best? Simply put, the champion is fueled by a unique love for the game, a burning passion that drives him toward his full potential. When any one of us loves what we do – even if what we do is tough or challenging – it changes our perspective. What we love, we see as an opportunity; what we don’t love, we tend to see as an obligation. With an opportunity perspective we feel joyful, inspired, blessed, energized, and driven; with an obligation perspective, the same task makes us feel stressed, overwhelmed, burdened, fatigued, and frustrated. If you're serious about raising and developing a champion, you are responsible for cultivating your child's love for playing, and the powerful perspective that comes with it. The LENS book clarifies why:
“For those who have developed that love, their opportunity perspective not only sustains them, but drives and pushes them continually forward as they get older. Playing the game and paying the price to get better becomes...fun! They relish the challenge of moving to the next level, even if the price of admission is greater. They can’t wait to see what’s next. Kids who love the game get to do the difficult work that growth and improvement requires.”
No matter what kind of athlete your child is – whether he’s the high-performance sports car, the family sedan, or the rusty clunker – he’ll never become his best if he doesn’t love it. Ultimately, he’s the one who’ll decide whether he loves it or not, but as a champion sports parent you’ve got to see the powerful influence you have in cultivating that love, and in doing so, in keeping him fueled for the journey ahead.
Unfortunately, too many parents today not only fail to fill their child's tank, they’re actually the ones depleting it. In the process of trying to drive their kids to success, their words and actions end up draining their kid's passion for playing. That means the one thing an athlete needs in order to achieve the goals his parent has for him, that very same parent is helping to diminish! Silly, huh? When that happens, even the most elite athletes – even the Ferraris and Porches of the sports world – start to shut down.
I want to encourage you today to be intentional about cultivating and helping to maintain your child’s love for playing. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a high standard, hold him accountable, or coach him hard when he needs it. Those things may all be a necessary part of helping him become his best. But you better see clearly that if you aren’t careful, your pursuit of “success” might end up doing more harm than good. Your car has an alert built in to let you know when the fuel level is diminishing; unfortunately your kid doesn’t come with such an option. That’s why you have to be intentional about checking in, recognizing the effect of your words and actions, and filling your child’s tank as often as possible. That way you’re part of the reason why he's moving forward instead of part of the reason why he's shutting down.
That guy I saw on the side of the road standing next to his fancy sports car was obviously irritated. He thought he was on the way to his desired destination, but he broke down instead. He wasn’t upset with his car for running out of gas – at least not if he saw the reality of the situation. He was upset with himself. After all, he’s the one responsible for monitoring and maintaining the fuel level, for doing what it takes to ensure there’s enough for the journey. I hope you accept that same responsibility as a champion sports parent today. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, whether you’ve got a high-performance sports car, a midsize family sedan, or a rusty old clunker. If it has the fuel it needs, it can get where you want it to go. If not, you may find yourself irritated as others pass you by, wishing you’d paid more attention to the fuel for the journey.
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