take the gloves off
Have you ever shaken hands with someone whose palms or fingers were so rough and calloused it felt like their skin was made of sandpaper? It’s amazing, isn’t it, that our hands can develop this natural defense mechanism for the challenging work we have to do – work that would otherwise blister our skin and expose our weakness.
Of course, the toughness that comes from calloused skin isn’t developed in a day, and it’s not something we can decide, at some point just when we need it, that we instantly want our hands to acquire. It’s only created through a long, sometimes painful process.
First, our skin gets exposed. The weak, sensitive part of us isn’t ready for the friction it encounters, and the result is that we painfully bleed and blister. Our skin gradually heals and strengthens, and then we’re more prepared for the difficult work the next time. When we try again, our hands are a little more resilient. Slowly and steadily, over the course of time, the hard work that used to expose us gradually begins to strengthen us. With more challenging experience comes more resilience. As the process continues and our toughness develops, our hands become capable of tackling even the biggest, most important work, and we can be confident they’re capable of handling it.
Mental toughness is a quality possessed by every champion athlete, and it’s developed much the same way. Champions understand that achieving anything great in life requires a significant price to pay, and that overcoming some adversity – the challenge, the hardship, the “friction” that occurs in life – will be a part of that price. Whether your child can develop the mental toughness it takes to overcome his adversity, you’ll help to determine. You can foster this process of growth and development, and help him get tougher. You can also hinder that growth, depending on how you choose to see the challenges in his life today. There’s great power in your perspective.
As an athlete, the mental toughness it takes to overcome adversity will separate your child on the field of competition. Even though difficulty, hardship, or challenge is a part of every athlete’s experience, most will struggle to overcome it. An injury. A bad call. An off night. Experiencing failure, disappointment, or a missed opportunity. There is always something to overcome. Some of it may be your kid’s doing, and some may exist outside his control. Either way, what happens to your child is actually much less important than how he learns to respond to what happens to him. If he's developed this understanding, and the strong response that comes with it, his opportunities to succeed in sports will multiply. While those around him flounder, he will flourish. If he hasn’t developed the right understanding or response, though, his opportunities diminish. He’ll be the one floundering out there – weak, exposed, and blistered.
What happens to your child is actually much less important than how he learns to respond to what happens to him.
The same will be true, of course, when it comes to his life as an adult. Sports is a great dress rehearsal for the skills and abilities it takes to succeed in life. If you want success for your child when it really matters – in life as a spouse, a parent, an employee, or a friend? Then using sports to develop his mental toughness changes who he becomes forever.
So how do you help your child develop his toughness?
First, you have to take the gloves of protection off so his toughness can develop. Of course he doesn’t have to encounter every bit of adversity that exists in life. We don’t need our hands to be calloused everywhere – in some areas, being softer or more sensitive helps make us better. But if he’s never encountering anything difficult…if he’s soft everywhere? Then what are you preparing him for? There are some places – if you really want him to reach his full potential as an athlete or as a person – where your child has to develop some toughness.
Allowing him to experience hardship is not a sign that you don’t love him or care about him. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s because you love and care about him that you should want him to experience adversity, learn and understand the reality of its place in his life, and develop the toughness it takes to overcome it. Yes, it will expose his weakness. Early in the process, he will be vulnerable and sensitive. Yes, he probably will blister some, and chances are it will hurt.
You always have the option to come running in and put the gloves of protection back on – that buffer that keeps him from what’s difficult – if you choose. You can work really hard, actually, to keep him from the “friction.” When things get tough, you can find someone or something to blame for it, you can make excuses for why it’s difficult, or you can justify how he’s been unfairly cheated out of what you think he’s entitled to. You can easily play the role of the victim, like so many people do today, and help your child learn how to play that role, too. Or you can help him understand the truth: that if he’s going to do anything worthwhile in life, then there will be a significant price to pay, and overcoming adversity is built into that price. We don’t always get to control the difficulties we face, but we do get to control our response to those difficulties. That is a champion's mindset.
Each time you allow your child to experience a challenge and then help him understand that truth, you help him heal that wound and strengthen himself where he needs it. You also prepare him more for the difficult work he’ll face later. When that time comes, he’ll be a little more resilient. Slowly and steadily, over the course of time, the hard work that used to expose him will begin to strengthen him. With another challenging experience comes more resilience. As the process continues and his toughness develops, he will become more capable of rising up to meet even his biggest, most important challenges, with the confidence to know he’s been prepared to handle it.
Don’t forget – just like with that calloused skin, your child’s toughness can’t be developed in a day, and it’s not something you can decide, at some point just when he needs it, that you instantly want him to acquire. It’s only created through a long, sometimes painful process. It can be done. In fact, it must be! So use the adversity in the life of your child today to prepare him for successes that really matter tomorrow. Help him take the gloves off, develop some toughness, and become his very best.