“Hello, this is Craig Sigl, how can I help you?” I said as I answered the phone. The sports mom on the other end of the line went on to tell me about her 15 year old daughter who plays softball for club and high school.
She went on to tell me how she has paid a lot of money for private hitting coaching, league fees, transportation and everything else that goes along with today’s select sports experience. And, how frustrated she was at how her daughter “just doesn’t seem to want to listen to anybody. Her coach tells her to do things and she doesn’t do them. She’s supposed to work on a drill for her swing, run 5 miles a week, and get in the batting cages at least twice a week and she doesn’t do it. She says she loves softball and doesn’t want to quit but she doesn’t put the effort in.”
She explained to me that their family has high expectations for success and achievement and that her daughter has all the skills to be great at her sport and possibly get a college scholarship if only she would work harder at it. They had a brother in the family who modeled hard work in sports and later became a professional baseball player. That’s what she wanted for her daughter too!
“What should I do?” She asked me.
To me, it seemed like this mom had boxed herself into an all or nothing proposition. It’s either go all out and work hard and do your best to get to the highest level or nothing. She had threatened her daughter with stopping funding all of her softball expenses if she didn’t get with the program.
I asked her if she had considered the values of sports participation beyond just getting a college scholarship and she said: “What do you mean?”
I went on to explain to her that there is a tremendous wealth of life skills, moral values, and productive habits to be learned that kids take with them long after they are done with sports. Here’s a list of just some of them and how you can support and encourage this for lifetime benefits for your young athlete.
Even if you think your kid is not very disciplined like the parent I just mentioned, they are still learning a certain amount of it just by showing up and following through on basic commitments to a team and/or a season of competition. Athletes regularly are coached to do boring and repetitive drills that teach the athlete the value of sticking with something. Do not underestimate this. Yes, they get this in school as well but it’s completely different there because they are forced to go to school. Sports is a choice.
This value flows from discipline and is not something that comes naturally to young people. They have to be guided in an arena such as sports to make the brain and nervous system connections that being uncomfortable now has greater benefits later. Kids often miss this in academics because many of them don’t see how learning geometry now is going to be useful in their lives later. They actually resent having to learn obscure topics and you can hear this conversation between students at just about every high school everywhere, every day.
When kids ask me why they have to learn math or world history when they’ll never use it again I tell them that they WILL use it again, guaranteed. I tell them it’s not about the subject matter, it’s about teaching your brain how to think. You learn certain problem-solving skills from ALL academic subjects that you WILL use for the rest of your life for things you DO like.
Even in individual sports like golf, tennis, swimming, running, there’s still a huge element of teamwork involved. Athletes learn the values of cooperation for a common goal, selflessness, specialization and division of talent, leadership, coach-ability, communication skills, emotional management, how to support others and more. The teamwork values in sport are the same values absolutely required in the business world or just becoming active in a community.
I could write a book on this topic alone but I’m sure you’re getting the picture by now. Kids brains are forming all the way up into their early 20’s. You can leave them to their own devices or you can encourage and support the learning of these success and moral values through participation in sports. Youth is not wasted on the young. It is a time for learning and experiencing the joy of being free to find and live our passions so that we have a taste for it in adulthood.
After I explained some of what I wrote above to my softball mom, she paid me the greatest compliment by saying my favorite words of all time:
“I never thought of it that way”
I almost cried.
Let’s do this,
Mental Toughness Trainer