“We are all told at some point in time, Billy, that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t know when that’s going to be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.”(quote from the movie, Moneyball)
I was driving my fifteen-year-old son to school the other day and as usual we have chats about all sorts of things. I told him about a conversation I had with a dad to whether he should continue to push his twelve-year-old son to train more to catch up with the other better kids in his representative team.
Two things I said to the dad: It’s around about now you should have that talk with your son (no, not the birds and the bees) to what he really wants; that he can no longer rely upon you to push him, and that he must now push you, initiate with you, to how much he goes and trains.
The other thing I reassured the dad about was because his kid was athletic and—now here’s the kicker—also coachable, he will catch up and even surpass the other talented kids who are hard to teach. But your son must now initiate.
Back in the car with my son, he smiled and said, I still remember the day you had that same conversation with me when I was twelve. You said you were no longer going to initiate all that extra training, whether it be going for a throw or a hit, that you were no longer going to push me; if I want to take my sport and my future in the game seriously I must push you and initiate with you. He said, if you continued to push me it will eventually come between us and you didn’t want that.
And at the age of twelve I left him to do all the initiating and scheduling of what he wanted from himself and what he wanted out of the game.
We are all told at some point. Every young athlete at some point has to have that talk. It can no longer be the parent pushing; if the child wants it, she or he must do the pushing.
I sometimes wonder what conversations I’ve had with my two children and what they’ll remember in years to come. I was glad that conversation meant a lot to him. Another one he remembers was from his coach when he was nine: You never know whose watching, whether at training or at games. Always train and play like someone is watching. (I’ll write more about this at a different time)
There’s no doubt we all want the best for our young athletes. Something we must ask ourselves: is it me who wants this more? Am I the driving force behind my child? Or has my child embodied the mentality of wanting this more for him or herself? The only way to find out is to have that conversation and then stop pushing.
The burning ache will remain within us to want to interject and continue to interfere with the process. We want our children to learn quickly from their mistakes and not make the mistakes we made in the past. The word patience once meant long suffering, and sometime through our own personal suffering we can’t help but blurt comments out to relieve our impatient egos. But as my son once told me at the age of twelve, Dad, it doesn’t help. He also said he loves and embraces the phrase, trust the process.
The need to interfere is natural and will hardly go away. What is important is we have to learn to get out of the way. Whether it means we stop interfering from the sideline with our words of ‘wisdom’ and frustration, or from the conversations we have at home and in the car that go nowhere and only end in arguments. Eventually our children will shut us out. Especially when they believe their game and their success is more important to us than to them. This is a hard truth to grasp. But it needs to be grasped.
If and when—after we’ve had the ‘who pushes who’ conversation—our child doesn’t initiate with us anymore, I dare say, if we haven’t already surrendered, we will be very disappointed. It’s a journey, however, most of us will have to take and accept. Only some young athletes will go on with their chosen sport. Fewer will be selected to go pro… even fewer make it to the show.
In the end this is my encouragement: have the conversation with your child. I did it with my son at the age of twelve. I think this is a good age, not older or younger. My other encouragement is this: you don’t want football, baseball, or any competitive sport spoiling your relationship with your son and daughter. And you will if you want it more than them.
Thank you to Mark Maguire author of ‘Dad! It Doesn’t Help!’ for contributing this article for our audience.