As many of you know, my wife Sharon and I recently adopted a baby boy. Brock has been with us since just after his birth, and is now coming up on nine months old. As a first-time dad, it has been interesting watching Brock evolve (he is now walking with the assistance of a toy cart). While new parents often talk about when they learn to crawl, walk, and start making words, the most impressive part of our son’s development has nothing to do with any of those things. It’s how he reacts to failure.
My wife set the tone early with Brock. When he pulls himself up to his feet and subsequently has an epic crash down to earth, we don’t rush to his side to coddle him. We actually cheer. He knows that clapping is a good and happy thing. Our reaction to his stumbles, falls, and tumbles are most often met by Brock with a smile. He is looking to us for a reaction, and when we celebrate his falls with a positive response, he mirrors us and does the same. Very seldom is there a fall accompanied by a screaming and crying baby. Those happen sometimes sure, but they are quite rare. Brock has taken signals from us and has made our reaction the norm for himself. Which leads me to think, what would youth sports be like if parents and coaches took this path with their young athletes?
Some examples for your consumption…..
· A referee misses a critical call at the buzzer, costing your daughter’s team a chance at victory. The most common reaction is to yell at the referee about the call. What if you said nothing? And when it was time to console your daughter, you pointed out a few other close plays: a 50-50 ball, a missed free-throw, an untimely turnover, each of which could have ensured victory. You might be giving her a more global perspective, and one that can serve her better when future losses come.
· The coach of your son’s team makes a tactical error, and the opponent uses the mistake to steal victory. Confronting the coach about your displeasure would be very common in this instance. What if you simply shook his hand and told him it was a tough game, and that the ball will bounce his way next time. Look at the standard we would be setting for our kids with this far more positive reaction to what they probably feel is a life-changing loss.
· Your son has a less than stellar game, including turning the ball over in a closely contested game. The turn over leads to the other team’s winning basket. I’ve seen parents and coaches in this situation berate the young athlete, and ask them rhetorically “why did you do that”? What if our reaction was a hug and a softly spoken “we will get them next time son”?
Several years ago, while playing in an international golf competition, my father came out to watch me compete. The main goal of this event for me was to make the 36-hole cut to play in the main match play draw in the ensuing days. My father had not seen me play much in competition, so it was kind of cool to have him out there, and of course, I wanted to play my best for him. I needed a strong round to make the cut having played poorly on day one. My round got off to a good start and I held it together for 17 holes. On the 18th and final hole before the cut, I three-putted for a bogey, likely assuring that I would miss the projected cut by one shot. When I got to the side of the green, generally dejected, my dad put his arm around me and said, “It’s okay son. You played great. Let’s go grab a beer.” Later that night at dinner with the others in our traveling party, my dad told stories of almost every hole and how well I had played and how proud he was of my effort. He never mentioned that last missed putt at the 18th hole.
My father passed away a few years ago. I will never forget his response that afternoon (our company is in part named after him and that day). I was really upset at myself for not closing out my round strong and achieving my goal that day. I hope that when it’s my turn to be there when Brock fails, that I will be as strong as my father was with me, and that my young son will remember that he always had a positive role model in his corner. Even when he falls.