The dad, who I will call Mike, is married with 3 children. The kids are doing great academically (mostly A's sprinkled with a B here and there). Athletically, they are also doing well- especially the middle child (So far, it seems like I need Mike's advice).
Here are the concerns. Mike's kids work extremely hard and he wants to know how to maximize their abilities without burning them out. My interpretation of the email was he was especially worried about this happening athletically. Mike doesn't want to push his children to the breaking point. He singled out his middle child who is very gifted. Mike wonders about this child playing sports with his age group because he would be so much better versus playing against older children so he wouldn't always be the best on his team. He's also wondering if there are burn out signs to look for. My first reaction to this email was (I hope my readers are slowly enjoying a cup of coffee because this might take a while).
Before you read on, please take a second to think how you would answer Mike's question. If you would like to help Mike, feel free by adding a comment at the bottom.
I hope Mike along with all of my readers know I'm not one to tell people what to do (on most occasions) but I will give you some things to think about. Therefore, I'm not going to tell Mike which age group he should allow his middle child to participate. The point is I want Mike to make the best decision for his family.
Three questions came to my mind that Mike should answer in the privacy of his home. What are the goals for the children? What's the point? Who's calling the shots?
What are the goals for the children? By this I mean what does Mike hope to achieve when his children play sports? Is it physical fitness, learning teamwork skills, an athletic scholorship, a professional career, etc? Knowing the goals will help Mike choose a path. For example, if his kids only played for fun, they wouldn't get burned out until it wasn't fun anymore. Contrarily, an athletic scholorship requires a lot of drive, extra time on the ball fields, and a commitment to excellence. When thinking about the goals, everyone had better be on board. (Specifically Mike's wife and the children)
Understand, I don't mind how Mike's family approaches sports of choice as long as the children's grades remain high. What troubles me is when I see parents who dog their kids repeatedly over a sport. It often means they are trying to get their kids to accomplish something in sports they didn't have the ability to accomplish. Sports are supposed to be an outlet for the children- not the parents.
What's the point? Most parents (including myself) want to see their kids excel in sports- but why? Is Mike looking for his children to develop self confidence, a sense of pride, and/or friendship with the other players?
Could there also be a slightly darker point? I talk in depth in my book that some of my former coaches had only one point- winning. We are talking about amateur athletics. If a parent's or coaches sole point is to win, that could be a problem. The pressure for any child to always win may be enough to drive him/her out of the sport.
I think Mike is safe if he genuinely didn't care how his kids performed in a sport as long as they tried their best and had fun. Sometimes as a parent, it's wise to tell yourself to "back off" and it isn't easy-especially if your child excels.
Who's calling the shots? I would like Mike to be as encouraging as he wants. In the end though, let the children make up their mind on how far they want to go with sports. The truth is there is only a miniscule chance the kids will be playing next to Kobe Bryant or Derek Jeter in the future. More likely than not, the children will need to use their brains to earn the same things Mike has in life (a college degree, stable income, and great kids).
As far as pushing kids to the breaking point and signs to look for, that's a bit tough for me because I don't think I've pushed a child that hard. Therefore, I haven't seen it firsthand. Subtle changes in behavior or attitude may be something to watch for. One question I would have for Mike is this. "Does quality time with your kids revolve around anything besides sports?" Truthfully, if Mike does lots of activities outside sports with his kids, the odds of burning them out on sports would be minimal in my opinion.
Keep this in mind as well. If Mike is a strong authority figure in his house, I wouldn't expect his children to come to him and explain that they need a break or they no longer wanted to play a particular sport. It probably wouldn't happen because of the mere possibility of disappointing their father. That's why looking for more subtle changes is important.
Depending on their family dynamic, if Mike's wife happens to be more sensitive than him (as is the case in my home), she may be a valuable resource. I believe Mike should consider expressing his concerns to her, explain he really needs her help, and tell her to let him know if the children are giving her some negative vibes. This only will work though if Mike promises not to argue when she speaks up. Any arguing could result in Mike losing the one resource that can help keep his fears in check.
Let's get this straight as well. As long as Mike continues to quietly monitor himself, it's less likely the kids will burn out. Just by writing me this email, I have the feeling Mike is already accomplishing this.
I hope my general thoughts and questions help. I want Mike and all my readers to have all the fun you can watching your kids play the sports they love. Be encouraging and only push as long as the children express an interest in being pushed. It's a special time so savor every minute of it and allow your children to do the same thing!
If you happen to enjoy today's blog, please pass it around to some other parents who would like it as well. Thanks so much!!!
On Monday, I'll be back with an education blog. There are several topics I have in mind. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.