Hard Fought Parenting Lessons Learned while Coaching Soccer [I'm Going to be a Dad!]
At only twenty-one years old, I stepped on the field for the first time as coach of the U12 Red Hot Chili Peppers. In that moment, I didn’t realize I was embarking upon “Parent Boot Camp.” For over a decade, I’ve continued to coach (even though I don’t have any kids) because I believe in giving back to the community. Other people did it for me and I understand and believe in the transformational power of coaching.
I made some really dumb mistakes coaching soccer, but I’ve also learned some incredibly valuable lessons. As I navigated the coaching waters, I intently watched the interactions of parents and players. In time, I found myself thinking, “Mental note to self: If I become a parent…” It became my own little handbook of parenting lessons – just in case I ever would be blessed with a wife and a child. Until now, these lessons were simple, lifeless “mental notes to self…”
Holy crud. I’m going to be a dad!
I’m thrilled to share that I’m going to have the first striker (or sax player or chess player or actor) on my very own family team. My wife, Rachel and I are expecting our first child in February. With a gaggle of nieces and nephews and an arsenal of life lessons from coaching soccer, I thought I might take a few moments share the “Notes to Self” I took about being a parent one day. These are more “ideals” than lessons, but I think it’s incredibly important to start with a framework. I know it’s woefully incomplete – and would love your single, most important tip on being a parent by commenting below.
I hope I’m able to actually live up to these lessons I’ve learned:
- Show up. There were parents that I didn’t meet in four years of coaching their son or daughter. When I spoke with the player, it was always quite evident that they knew they had no support mechanism and no interest. It matters to your kid. Show up. Even if you hate the sport, activity or pageant. Show up. And, be supportive.
- Through all of your actions, your kids are learning. Always use the guiding thought, “What are you teaching your kids?”
- Give your kids way more credit than you think. They watch, listen and learn from everything you say and do. Your attitude and body language are noticed in huge ways.
- When your kids get to an appropriate age, let them fight their own battles. If we are preparing our kids for the next stages of life, they must learn how to fight for the things they want. The burning desire must come from within.
- Read a lot. Know what’s going on in the world. Know what’s going on in your kid’s world.
- Stay fashionable. Don’t be “that dad” with knee high dress socks and flops. In fact, at some point, start letting your kids dress you; they’ll be way more apt to bring you around their friends.
- Keep up with the latest gadgets, gizmos and games. You lose the parental “cool factor” when you have to keep asking, “How do you work the remote?”
- If you disagree with playing time, coaching decisions, then plan on coaching the team next season.
- Playing time, like grades, are earned not given. Never use your influence to try to impact grades or playing time. Make your player or student earn it.
- Just like coaching soccer, you can’t do it for them. You have to provide them with the framework and the skills to succeed. But, ultimately, it is up to them.
- Learn to ask lots and lots of questions instead of simply giving answers. Socrates was onto something by guiding discovery without stealing it.
- Never think the delusional thought, “My kid wouldn’t do that.” No questions asked. Your kid did it. Hold him or her accountable.
- Be supportive, but not overbearing. Find the line between challenging your son or daughter and pushing them away and frustrating them. THEY are not YOU. Celebrate them for who THEY are – not who YOU wanted to be in your glory days.
- Say, “I love you” and “You were awesome” as much as possible.
- Insist on hugging and kissing your child every time they depart from you. You just never know.
- Avoid, “You shoulda…” statements. You take the joy of self-discovery away.
- Believe in the process. A great process will always exceed results-orientated people in the long-term. There’s plenty of time for “results” when you reach the corner office in life.
- Do it for the joy. And, give it everything you have with all your might.
- Celebrate “best.” Not “my” best or “the” best. Celebrate “their” best.
- Be a little bit zany. So many times people didn’t see the humor of the day.
- Always stop practice to watch the sunset for 30 seconds. Remind every player that it’s a big, big world. And, they are part of it!
- Get on your knees often to see the world from their eyes. It looks way different and way bigger (and scarier) at 36″ than it does at 72″
- There is never a wrong time to do the right thing; and never a right time to do the wrong thing.
- No matter what: Never allow your child to quit. The life lesson of “sticking it out to uphold your commitment” is well worth the short-term misery that a sport may hold over your child. Never allow the notion of quitting to enter your child’s mind. It’s the worst lesson you can “let them get away with” and will lead to an average life.
- Allow your child to save face with friends. Never berate your kid with an audience.
- Kids (and you) will make mistakes. Use it as a lesson to grow instead of rubbing the nose in it. It’s like yelling at a player who missed a shot in the game. He knows he missed it and already feels awful; he doesn’t need you to further embarrass him and steal his “self.”
- Take joy in the simple things. While putting the ball in the back of the net is amazing, I’ve found much greater joy in the kids finally “getting” and making the simple pass.
- Do everything you can to foster a strong sense of “self.” Self-discipline, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-motivated, self-expression, etc. Indeed, the only thing enduring is “self.”
- Keep looking at the big picture. Know that your actions are contributing to the big picture positively.
- Know your family values, communicate those values and hold your kids to those values. Same thing with the team.
- Engage in community service. Give back to the community.
- Hold your kids responsible to contribute to the family “team.” We do our kids a huge disservice if we do everything for them in the name of love. They’ll never be prepared for challenges when you’re not there. Make sure your kids can cook, clean and do their own laundry.
- Learning happens by doing. Let your kids make mistakes in safe environments. Because they will make mistakes and shielding them won’t help them learn.
- Revere imagination over reality. Don’t be skeptical with your kids. Let them dream HUGE dreams. It’s us adults that put the kibash on creativity in the name of experience and “knowing better.” Imagination is amazing and should be treasured! Players often surprised me when they figured ways to do things without me telling them.
- Everyone has lost something, hated something and loved something. We’re all the same. If you seek to find the differences in people, you will find them. And, if you seek to find the similarities, you’ll find them too. All depends on your perspective.
- The greatest gift you can provide is a positive perspective. We cannot control the world around us, but we can always control the way in which we react. Work hard to put yourself in situations that stretch the comfort zone, so that our experience of “normal” is wider and deeper than the rest of the world. It will lead to better understanding and problem-solving.
- The quality of your life is in direct proportion to width and depth of your perspective. Put players and kids in new positions in life, so they can learn and grow.
To all the parents and administrators at the Haddonfield Soccer Club, I thank you for the opportunity to learn with your kids, so I could be be more prepared for mine. (And, I know that nothing can prepare you for being a parent.) I hope I did your kids justice and taught them the “important” life lessons along the way.
I know I don’t have it all – and definitely don’t know it all. What’s the most important lesson you can share with me about being a first-time parent?