Decision-Making in Sports

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Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

–Anne Frank

Whether or not you believe this is true, it is a difficult task in today’s culture of “preparing the path for the child,” rather than the other way around. Peer pressure is not just for adolescents, it’s for the competitive nature of parenting in this generation. Whatever you hold as the ideal, there’s an implied imperative that you are responsible for getting your child there. “My child is vegan, attends a coveted magnet school, takes only AP courses, participates in club soccer, and plays violin in the city’s youth orchestra.” Add up the point value: 20 points for superior diet, 20 points for academic prowess, 20 points for athletic achievement, 20 points for unique musical skill…but only 19 points because of the public school versus the $30,000 a year private college prep school down the street. That’s not quite a perfect 100%, now is it? Who didn’t reach the goal; and whose goal was it?

This mythical example is simply to demonstrate how arbitrary it is to create your idyllic standard and attempt to hold you and your child to it. Yet many parents believe this is how it’s done, and the pressure, like a rumbling volcano, could potentially spill out at any moment. Children are in your care for a few short years, and becoming an independent adult must be the overriding goal, else society is in real trouble.

In her book “How to Raise an Adult,” Julie Lythcott-Haims interviewed many young adults who shared their experiences growing up. One young man, Brandon, recollects the following:

“I was free to discover what I wanted, learn what I wanted, and do what I wanted from an early age…I’ve always behaved independently. In sixth grade I played trumpet out of pure interest, not because my parents forced me to do it to get ahead. I played for two years, and was good at it, but I didn’t like it as much as football so I quit. My parents were fine with that.”

The author also interviewed various parents. Carmen is one who takes a different tack in raising a family than the helicopter parents we too often observe. She explains:

“She (her 10-year-old daughter) wants a lot of downtime at home. She wants to do art, and play, and it doesn’t work with this kid when she’s pushed to do too many activities. That’s something I am careful about when we’re signing her up for things. Maybe Rec and Ed soccer is better than travel soccer. Or with choir–maybe the citywide choral group she auditioned for and got into turns out not to be right because of its demanding practice schedule, and a chance to sing with a lower-key group is in fact the better choice for her.”

I was delighted to run into a former student recently and asked her to catch me up on her school activities. The last time I was with her, she was a sixth grader at my school. Now she is a freshmen and looking very grown-up. But it was when she responded that I was impressed with how she had matured. “Well, I was on the volleyball team, and I really liked it. But with all I was putting into it, the amount of quality playing time was just not enough. So I am going with lacrosse instead.” As her former athletic director, I was of course delighted that she was sticking with sports for the many enduring values they provide. However, her ability to make an independent decision at an appropriate age indicated that her parents had made wise choices in her upbringing. She was forging her own path, and the confidence she exuded was noteworthy.

After all, how many life paths do you know that were without twists and turns along the way? The value of making a successful choice for oneself is difficult to measure. It’s a life skill that endures beyond sports. And sports eventually end for everyone.

Key Tips

  • Allowing your child to make decisions about their activities can pay dividends in life skills beyond sports.
  • Parents are wise who recognize the needs of the child and put those before their own goals for them.


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