“I just need to find out things for myself and where I stand.”–Ryan Ripken (from Max Preps)
Imagine being the son of legendary baseball player Cal Ripken, Jr. If anyone could have resources at his fingertips in order to get a leg up, it would be the child of someone who made history in the sport they also play. However, a younger version of Ryan, who today plays for a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, expressed the desire to “find out for himself.” I believe that is a common desire in the hearts of all young athletes. They need to know for themselves.
Empowering your child to take ownership of his or her sports experience is one of the healthiest steps one can take. If I could write a hypothetical letter to my young athlete, it would include this principle. Below is a sample of what I would want them to know as their parent and biggest supporter.
I love watching you play your sport. To see you making progress with consistent effort makes me happy for you. You are learning the importance of working hard, being a good teammate, and a good human being in the sports arena. Even when things are not going your way, you push through what is difficult and learn from it.
Although it hurts me to see you disappointed in your performance or a set of circumstances, I have learned that in life it is okay to fail. In fact, the people who are most successful in life have failed many times, but they never gave up on themselves or their goals. Strength is not only important for muscles on the outside, but also those on the inside.
Whenever you are ready to quit a sport, let’s discuss the timing and the manner in which you do it. I don’t want you spending your time and energy doing something that is not fun or rewarding for you. You are uniquely created with skills and passions that cause certain sports to fit better than others. Let’s keep sampling until we find those you really enjoy.
Never worry about disappointing me. I am your biggest fan and will support you through the ups and the downs. The fact that you are participating in something with consistency and commitment makes me proud. I will love you whether you hit a home run or strike out. I will love you whether you play sports or not. But as long as you are involved, I will support you appropriately.
As you get older if you continue to play, I understand that you will expect me to support you in different ways. I will need you to make me aware of what is helpful and what is not. But you need to understand that I am always monitoring your well-being, and I will be honest with you when I have true concerns about circumstances. It’s important to me that you have a good role model for a coach and teammates who care about doing the right things.
To sum it up, sports is really just a vehicle to get you better prepared for life. Hopefully, the joys are what you will most remember, but the negatives will teach you important lessons that can make your life better. The friendships you make will impact your life. The value of physical fitness will remain a priority and bring you great reward. These are the things I hope for you. They are far more important than any award, trophy, or championship. And my relationship with you I value above all else.
You really cannot begin too early in sports to build independence in your son or daughter. They need you, but they need to know you believe in their strength as well. Together you can meet the goal of empowering your child to own their sports experience.