Here’s how I parent when it comes to sports: I act like I don’t give a shit if they win. I love a win, but I make sure they know my support is the same regardless of the outcome. I tell them all I want is for them to try their hardest and have fun.
And that’s the party line, right? That’s what you’re supposed to say; those are the official parent talking points.
But is it right?
Here’s the deal — I watch parents who don’t take that approach. There are parents who are training their kids to win. And it works. As a parent you have immense power over your kids. You control access to everything they need. (You didn’t win because you need to practice harder — so you can’t have a friend over today). Your opinion of them is everything to their little hearts. (It makes me so proud to see you trying harder than any other kid out there.) Plenty of parents use this to make their kids better.
I could make Jack a winner in wrestling. I could exert that power and let him know that winning is what is rewarded. Him being a winner is what’s important. In sports (like life) there are winners and losers and your job is go out there and win. That’s an important lesson in life.
I know that sounds awful, but is it so bad? I see parents with that attitude, parents who are successful in business and in life. And they’re successful because they’re winners. Just like they’re training their kids to be. You can feel the winness hanging in the air as one of these kids stands with their parents before a match. You can feel it in the attitude after a win or a loss.
And here’s a messed up admission: I sometimes find myself hoping these kids will lose.
Well, here’s the deal: I don’t have it in me to be that dad. To exert my will and drive Jack to be a winner? It’s not gonna happen. He’d be a better wrestler if I did, and maybe better off in life, I guess.
I lost him in the gym for a while. Zillions of kids and wrestling matches and all the kids wearing the same uniforms. And where did I find him? He was down on the far mat cheering like hell for one of the little kids he knows. The kid won and Jack leaned down, patted him on the back and said “good job” with a bright smile. In fact, that kid’s dad told me at a party this weekend that the little boy looks up to Jack.
My Aunt Mary once told me something about parenting that I take to heart. She said: “They’re going to be who they are. All you can do is make it easy for them or hard for them to be that.”
Well, if who they are involves being awesome at parallel parking, cooking home fries, taking road trips, and hurting themselves on a mountain bike — I can teach them that. But if Jack and Alex want to be born winners, they’re gonna have to figure that out for themselves.