your son, the poster boy
It would be pretty awesome, wouldn’t it someday, to see your son dunk on somebody? Or to make some other poster-worthy, highlight play? The walk-off homerun, the game-winning touchdown catch, or the buzzer-beating shot. I would love for my son to be the one who make the plays that people leave the game talking about. I’m sure you’d love the same thing for your boy as well. But I also hope my son gets dunked on, and I hope yours does, too.
Sports are filled with risk. Especially when the big moments arise – the highlight opportunities – there’s usually something at stake. Take the picture above, for instance. It’s easy to see what happened. Paul George (in yellow) put Chris Andersen (in white) on his poster. But think, just one second before this picture was taken, the outcome of this play was unknown, so both players went for it. Paul George saw the opportunity to create a highlight by dunking on Chris Andersen, and he went for it. Chris Andersen saw the opportunity to create a highlight by blocking Paul George’s dunk attempt, and he went for it. If Andersen did block it, it would’ve been the highlight of his night. Instead, he went all in on his attempt…and failed. And what did he get for going all in? Exposed… humiliated… posterized! Right there for the whole world to see.
If your son is gonna play sports at a high level, he will face a similar challenge. The moments that determine who wins and who loses, who’s the hero and who’s the goat, who does the dunking and who gets dunked on…they’ll be everywhere, but they’ll be risky. Your son will have to make a choice in those moments. Will he go all in? Or will he avoid the risk and play it safe to keep from being exposed…humiliated…posterized? Honestly, that choice is harder for kids today than it’s ever been before.
We have created in our society an immense fear of failure and fear that we’ll be defined by our failure. We live in a culture of immediate access, judgment, and conclusion. When we were kids, getting posterized (in any sense of going for it and failing) meant making a fool of yourself in front of the crowd that was present. Today, getting posterized likely means that your foolishness has been documented by someone, shared instantly on social media, and then witnessed by the world. It’s right there, for everyone to see, forever. And you and I both know that the world does not take kindly to those who look foolish. For many young athletes today, going all in, possibly looking bad, and then feeling defined by it simply isn’t worth the risk.
So instead, many young athletes avoid the danger. Instead of going all in to seize the moment, they only go partly in – just where it’s safe. In the meantime, while they’re focusing their attention on not looking bad, opportunities to really play, to really try, and to really win fly right past them. By not going for it, they’ve assured themselves that they’ll never look bad. But they’ve also guaranteed that they’ll never be their best.
Champion athletes, on the other hand, willingly accept the risk that comes with competing at the highest level. They are champions likely because someone has helped them come to some important understandings of the truth:
First, champions understand that failure is a part of the story for anyone who does something worthwhile. They see clearly that even the best players have been dunked on, or have swung and missed, or have looked foolish. If he’s giving his best and competing against others who are doing their best, then he will (not might, will) get dunked on. He will swing and miss. He will look foolish. It’s a part of truly competing – of giving his all in pursuit of victory. Sometimes his all will be good enough; sometimes it won’t.
Second, champions understand that they are defined by much more than their failure. They see clearly that what defines them is the pursuit of their achievement (their toughness, their grit, their perseverance in the process) more than the achievement itself (the result or the outcome). They are not defined by today’s success or failure, but by how today’s success or failure is helping them learn, improve, and move closer to success tomorrow.
Third, champions understand that regret stinks. Sure, getting dunked on may be embarrassing. But there’s nothing in life worse than looking back on an event or experience and wondering what might have happened if only you’d have had the courage to go for it. Champions have decided that really playing, and really trying, and pursuing victory is better than just trying not to look bad.
I hope you’re challenged to help your son learn and grow in his understanding of these truths. It will help move him closer to his full potential as an athlete. But more importantly, it will change who he becomes for life. Champion men in the world are wired the same way as champion athletes. They’re willing to take the risk that comes with giving their very best. They know they aren’t defined by their failure. And they know that regret stinks.
So how can we help our sons learn this valuable lesson? Well, simply, we should start with our own example. Let’s pursue opportunities that show our sons what it looks like to be a champion – let them see us go all in. For each of us, the question is simple: What is it that I’ve felt called to pursue, but the fear of failure is holding me back? Am I living a life without regret? Am I showing my son what it means to really go for it? I hope you’ll consider using the opportunities in your own life to show your son how to do it right. If you do, you’ll probably help to raise an athlete and man who understands that when you really go after something with all you’ve got, then once in a while getting dunked on is a part of life. That’s the kind of kid who will really play, and really try, and really win in this world, and you’ll have fun watching him pursue his full potential. The goal, of course, is that he continues to develop all the qualities of a champion. If you see to it that he gets there, when it comes to being a champion, someday you might even call him the poster boy.