The Character Movement

Soccer Parents, Let Them Learn!

When I was in junior high, my friends and I would meet at the park to play touch football after school. We were all competitive and often spent more time ‘discussing’ infractions with each other than actually playing the game.

“The score is 14-7, not 14-14!”

“He stepped out of bounds!”

“You counted ‘five Mississippi’ too fast!”

After 10 minutes of arguing, someone would suggest a deal that would allow us to keep playing.

“Fine,” someone would say. “The touchdown counts, but we then get a ‘do over’ later in the game whenever we want it.”

“Agreed,” the other team would respond.

Of course, the NFL would never allow this kind of “negotiation,” but the rules weren’t the point. What mattered was that we figured it out for ourselves. We argued, negotiated and compromised.

Today, when I go to kids’ soccer games, there are three referees, two coaches and 40 parents in the stands – each shouting out instructions for the players.

“Push it up field, Jorge!”

“That kid was out of bounds!”

“Remember to keep your feet together on the throw-in, Amanda!”

Hopefully all of these instructions are well-intentioned, but too often the adult “input” takes away one of life’s great lessons. Kids need to have the opportunity to figure out life for themselves.

If they don’t have enough room to negotiate, discuss and struggle on their own, they will miss out on chances to learn from both their triumphs and their mistakes.

Unfortunately, I often encounter parents who are afraid to let their kids fail. The world has become so fast-paced and competitive that parents automatically want to step in and help their kids. This may be a natural response, but just because it feels right or necessary, doesn’t mean it’s good for your kids.

The reality is that – at some point – we’re not going to be there for them. Even the most engaged and involved parent will have to let go at some point. Better they practice failing with the little stuff than to be out in the world failing as young adults when the stakes are much higher.

I’ll close with a story a mom recently told me that may give you hope in letting your kids “figure it out for themselves.”

Our kids fight a lot. Last night, the 13-year-old – attempting to be a guiding big sister – told her 11-year-old brother he could have some microwave popcorn, but only if he started his homework. That went over just great, of course. There was a little yelling. A door was slammed. A few choice words were exchanged.

We weren’t home to settle the argument, so they had to work it out themselves. About 30 minutes later, the 11-year-old mustered together a very sincere, heartfelt apology to his sister. Normally, his sister doesn’t believe his apologies, but this one must have been so sincere that she did. When we got home, they were so proud of themselves for having worked it out on their own that we couldn’t help but feel proud back.

Sometimes, letting your kids figure out things on their own can be one of the best parenting techniques.

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