Parents of young children today face what seems to be a dueling dilemma when it comes to sport. On one end of that dilemma is the avoidance of "helicopter parenting" and needing to be O.K. with our kids not getting a trophy for 10th place in whatever tournament they are competing in at the moment. But on the other end lies what seems to me to be intense and consuming pressure to achieve an elite athlete status at a very early age. From year-round sports camps to off-season clinics, dedicated coaches to "groom" young athletes and a myriad of things in between, many parents actually believe that if their child doesn't choose one sport of focus by the time they're five years old, it's too late.
While various theories abound about why today's parents of youngsters behave this way (from more disposable income and flexible schedules that can allow for all of the practice shuttling to wanting to impress friends on social media), the bottom line is that in the end – the children often suffer. We see it in baseball, with a record number of young players needing orthopedic surgery due to injuries that involve overuse. We see it in soccer with parents getting into physical altercations with referees over calls that didn't favor their children. We see it on kids t-shirts with sayings like "I Make this Look Easy" and "Great Without Even Trying." Whatever happened to a simple "Just do it!" - a phrase that compels a person to dig deep into their own Victorious Spirit to harness a Win?
The thing is, character counts. On the field. Off the field. In the board room. And all throughout life. Having cared for some of the world's most elite athletes for multiple decades, I will tell you this – being pushed, pulled or tossed into a sport at five years old isn't the common thread running among these stellar individuals. It really isn't. Neither is the notion of "winning at all costs." Rather, the world's best athletes have this thing (I call it The Win Within) inside them that they themselves can grab onto and use in the pursuit of their goals. This Victorious Spirit isn't specifically for the glory of the spotlight nor is it for the tearing down of others to get ahead. It's an inner force that demands personal integrity.
Guess what one of the most critical parts of building integrity is? It's adversity and learning how to deal with loss, with difficulty, with hard times. We parents cannot create integrity for our children and deliver it into their souls. They must come by it all on their own and we must be by their side to support them. To develop that Victorious Spirit, we must encourage not pressure. We must focus on their needs before our wants. We must help them understand that losing is a HUGE part of being successful – on a sports field and in life. But maybe, these are things we must first explain to and believe ourselves. We are mirrors for these young ones and we should act accordingly.