One of the most important responsibilities you have as a sports parent is to do your part in making the game fun. Of course, ultimately your child will be the one who has to determine whether or not they love to play, but you’ll have an incredible influence in shaping their perspective. Jon Gordon, one of my favorite authors, says “If you don’t love it, you’ll never be great at it.” That’s true for each of us in any area of life, but it’s true for the young athletes we’re raising and developing, too. If they don’t love it, they’ll never be great at it – at least not as great as they're capable of being. I hope you’ll see today the critical role you play in making it fun.
But if you’re serious about raising a champion – an athlete who reaches his full potential on the playing field and who’s prepared for real, authentic success beyond it – then your responsibility doesn’t stop there. As a champion sports parent, you’re also responsible for helping your child work on re-defining fun. The champion, you see, defines “fun” differently than the average-minded or mediocre. It’s one of many things that makes a champion unique to those around him. The champion has a way of seeing things differently. He thinks and acts differently. And he defines “fun” differently. Here are a few ways how:
*The average or mediocre, in sports or in life, have a tendency to define fun based on comfort. What's comfortable is fun, and what's uncomfortable isn't. The champion, on the other hand, knows there’s a deeper, more fulfilling fun that comes with giving his very best, even if that means pushing himself outside his comfort zone.
*The average or mediocre, in sports or in life, have a tendency to define fun based on what comes easy. For them, striving, struggling, or persevering isn't fun. The champion, on the other hand, knows there’s a deeper, more fulfilling fun that comes with accomplishing a difficult task. Yes, it requires a higher price to pay – more striving, more struggling, and more persevering – but the champion knows that the prize is worth the price.
*The average or mediocre, in sports or in life, have a tendency to define success based on what's safe and sure. For them, the fear of looking bad or failing isn't fun. The champion, on the other hand, knows there is a deeper, more fulfilling fun that comes with taking a risk. He understands that real success, despite the chance of looking bad or failing, requires the courage to go out on a limb. After all, the champion sees clearly, that’s where the fruit are.
Being average or mediocre is comfortable, and easy, and safe. That’s why most people settle for it. And left to his own devices, your child will more likely settle for that path of least resistance, too. Not because he's a bad kid; because he's human. But being great – in sports or in life – isn’t comfortable, or easy, or safe. It's tough. As it says in The LENS book:
“Being an athlete, especially being the best one your son can be, will be tough, but it should not be miserable. The perspective that our culture promotes has trained young people to think that difficult things are miserable things. It takes a very intentional, deliberate, and different perspective to create in a boy the unique understanding that difficult things can be fun – sometimes, the most fun! His participation in sports is a great opportunity – probably your best opportunity, dad – to help him develop this important lesson for life.”
-The LENS, Chapter 9: Loving the Game
You've got a challenging but important responsibility as he grows older, to help him re-define fun. So how exactly do you shape a different perspective and a unique understanding in your child? How do you help him re-define fun? Here are three ways to consider.
Lead by Example. Remember, you’ll have as big an influence as anyone in helping to develop and cultivate your son’s love for the game. Of course, what you emphasize with your words will help to shape what he learns to value, but there is no more powerful message you can send to your child than the example you set with your actions.
Help your child become a champion by showing him what a champion looks like. Don’t be average. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable, or easy, or safe. Instead, let your boy see you push yourself outside your comfort zone…and enjoy it. Let him see you pay the price that comes with accomplishing a difficult task…and enjoy it. Let him see you take the risks that accompany real success…and enjoy it! Champions breed champions. That means who you are is helping to determine who he'll become.
Trust the Process. Re-defining fun is important work in the life of a champion sports parent, but it’s not work that gets done in a day. Instead, it gets done through a daily commitment to the process of growth and development, one small step at a time. Be intentional about recognizing the opportunities that exist to help your son experience a deeper, more fulfilling kind of fun. He may be reluctant to dive in right away. When you’re used to comfortable, easy, and safe, who wouldn't be?
As long as you’re aware and intentional about finding the right balance, you can nudge him into some new challenges and still help him enjoy it. He may feel more upset, scared, or uncomfortable than usual, and he'll probably need your support and encouragement. He might want to focus on the outcome of his experience – whether he succeeded or failed – and you might be tempted to focus there, too. Just don’t forget to recognize the value in any experience, good or bad, where he’s given his very best, worked hard to accomplish a difficult task, or taken the risk required to do something awesome. The more he experiences it, the more his definition of fun will develop.
Celebrate the Struggle. Finally, be your child’s biggest cheerleader. Becoming a champion isn’t easy, comfortable, or safe. Neither is raising one. The process will require your patience and your persistence as much, and some days, maybe even more than it will require his, but you’ve got to enjoy it. If you aren't smart, aware, and creative enough to have fun on the journey, both you and your child will probably end up settling for less than your best. After all, if you don't love the hard work it takes to raise a champion, you'll never be great at it.
What The LENS book says about re-defining fun for our kids can just as easily apply to the hard work we're doing as parents. Yes, raising a champion is tough, but it should not be miserable. The perspective that our culture promotes has trained even us, as parents, to sometimes think that difficult things are miserable things. It takes a very intentional, deliberate, and different perspective to create for ourselves the unique understanding that difficult things, like raising a champion, can be fun – sometimes, the most fun!
I hope you’ll be willing to see things from this different perspective and with this unique understanding today. And then, I hope you'll get to work, and have some fun helping your child become his very best.
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