Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When coach/coaches are obsessed with winning

This questions was on the blog as a response to another. Likely a good one to answer....

Jennifer F. said...

What would you recommend for parents who find themselves in a situation where the coach/coaches are obsessed with winning or use yelling and shaming, but finding another league is not an option? I live in a smal town, so there's often only _one_ choice for baseball, basketball, etc.

Great question and hard dilemma.

Keep in mind that the purpose of sports is to develop skills, to stay active and, most importantly, to have fun. If you find yourself with a coach whose strategy involves shaming and yelling, he has eliminated two of the three reasons we'd engage our sons in the opportunity of sports. Most often times, there are other options of other coaches or other leagues where we can find our way to a better case scenario. If you live in a small town, like Jennifer, it may be a more complicated puzzle to solve. I once worked with a family facing a similar challenge. They ended up (after alot of work) creating their own recreational league sponsored by their local church. The church ended up purchasing the uniforms and twenty-eight families combined resources to cover the cost of using space on another playing field.

A similar group of dads developed a "Sunday afternoon league." They go to a local park for flag football in the fall and baseball in the spring. It's an open league that is structured more like a pick up game. They sometimes play boys against boys and dads against dads. Once a month they combine teams for a father/son versus father/son competition. They've successfully re-integrated the three components mentioned above. Be creative in how you go about accomplishing those goals. We've culturally bought into the idea that organized sports and current leagues are the only options for boys to have an athletic experience. There are other ways to accomplish what boys need from athletics. We are the consumers and if we don't like what we're purchasing, we can always stop buying and create different options.

Some folks reading this would argue that a boy can benefit from navigating a challenging relationship with a coach. We would absolutely agree. He is developing a life skill in doing so. Our challenge would be that exposing him to a shaming experience early on could not only have some harmful emotional impact, but it could shut him down to the long term opportunity of engaging in sports again. We've seen too many young men who had a negative experience early on that closed the door to future opportunities. Particularly when boys are young, they should be in positive, encouraging, skill development opportunities that make sports seem enjoyable and with purpose.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Balanced Media Boundaries

Ideas for Setting Appropriate and Balanced Media Boundaries:

1. Monitor input. A good rule of thumb is that kids should never spend more time in the virtual world than in reality. That simply means that they should never spend more time playing video or computer games than engaging in active play. They should never spend more time watching sports than playing them (that goes for you, too, Dad!). They should never spend more time talking to their friends on facebook or email than having real conversations.
2. Get online. Parents should have access to any social networking sites they choose to let their kids participate in or explore. You should know their password at all times and let them know that you can and will check it.
3. Model Limits. Pay attention to the amount of time you spend watching TV, checking email, surfing the net or chatting on facebook. Kids learn more from watching us than hearing from us.
4. Bombard kids (with information). Education and conversation are our best weapons against pornography and internet dangers.
5. Avoid Violence. Violent video games that reward antisocial aggression, such as Grand Theft Auto or Doom, should not be permitted in your house. Playing violent video games has a substantially more toxic effect than watching equally violent television programs. Neither is healthy, but children are even more susceptible to behavioral influences when they are active participants.
6. Teach Literacy. Just because kids can use media and technology doesn’t mean they are effective at critically analyzing and evaluating the messages they receive. This is called media literacy. An important media literacy skill, which can be developed through parental guidance, is a child’s ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Missing Dad

I am a single mother of a boy whose father is minimally involved. What do you have in the way of advice to see him develop into a man?

We would encourage you to focus strongly on your role as a mom. Often times, single moms or mothers whose spouses aren’t invested well in parenting, will try and function as both parents. You can’t play both roles, so let your focus remain on being the best mother you can to him.

In addition to that focus, we’d recommend three other ideas to consider:

1. Allow him to gravitate towards his dad and other men. A boy’s hunger for male attention is instinctive in every boy. Even when you see him chasing after a need that isn’t being met, allow him to do so. A part of every boy’s journey is reconciling himself to who his dad is and who he isn’t. This can be a very painful journey for many boys, but he has to come to these conclusions himself. You can’t shield him from this.

2. Help him find his way to strong, healthy, supportive male voices. When his dad isn’t involved, invested or available, he desperately needs male community. Find a school with strong male teachers, administrators, counselors, and coaches. Consider enrolling him in scouts, an excellent organization with strong male leaders and male community. We’d also advocate for helping him find his way to a youth group or small group experience where he has more intimate relationship with an adult male leader you trust and community as well.

3. Avoid the tendency to coddle him. As you recognize this longing, ache or hunger, you may feel a pull to compensate by coddling him or under-parenting him because you feel sorry for him. Coddling a boy in this way is never useful to his long-term masculine journey and may actually hinder it in a number of ways.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Boys and Sports

How do we deal with coaches and others kids who are too competitive? We want our son to play sports but do we do when the purpose seems wrong?

This is a great question and an important topic. Boys are highly competitive creatures. In certain stages of their development, they can become consumed with their ranking in the pecking order. All of life can become a competition for them unless we help them differentiate and identify contexts where competition takes place and where it doesn’t.

Sports are an ideal context for boys to learn about healthy competition, an opportunity to win and lose, working as a team, and an outlet to test his strength. Sports are also designed to be a place to learn skills and to have fun. Sadly, we have taken much of the good intended for athletic experiences and made it into a fiercely competitive arena. Parents and coaches crowd the sidelines yelling, cursing, and shaming boys and referees, modeling inappropriate behavior and redirecting the athletic experience toward something harmful rather than beneficial.

If you find your son is playing under a coach who is shaming or obsessed with winning, we would advocate pulling him from the league and finding a less competitive league with core values that match those of your family. Dialogue openly with your son about why you’re making this change and what you want him to get from his athletic experiences.

If you find he is playing with highly competitive kids, use it as an opportunity to dialogue about character. Invite him to brainstorm with his coach in how best to navigate this challenging territory. If that feels overwhelming to him, offer to do it with him. This will translate to life-long learning in how to navigate relationships with difficult people.

Furthermore, we worked with a dad who asked the coach to bench his son every time he made a critical, shaming or inappropriate comment to a teammate. This wise father was more invested in his son’s character and seeing him evolve into a strong team player than he was in seeing his son winning. Be willing to make this strong of a choice for your own son if you see him gravitating toward destructive patterns himself on the field or on the court.