"It's just a game."
How many times have I heard that phrase used to dismiss an athletic competition? How many times have I said that myself?
So, once and for all, let's set the record straight: A ball game is more than a "game."
Sports have so much to teach us about what it means to live well. Yes, good character can be taught in Sunday school, but it is "practiced" on the court, diamond, gridiron and track. Virtues such as tenacity, perseverance, fairness, integrity and responsibility can be developed and strengthened as surely as the muscles and skills needed for competition.
More than 30 million children in the United States participate in organized sports"Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes," http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/119/6/1242. Last accessed September 8, 2009. The rising popularity of youth athletics is good news for dads. It presents a matchless opportunity to connect with their children and teach valuable life skills.
For some dads, sports can make parenting seem easier, more natural. As a father tosses a baseball with his son in the backyard or plays tennis with his daughter in the park, the gap between them closes. Few words are needed; the activity itself draws them close.
"I have great memories of being with my dad, having him teach me how to throw a ball, how to catch, how to do athletic things," says former NFL coach Tony Dungy. "It was a great time for us."
Unfortunately, the pursuit of athletics isn't without its pitfalls. In his desire to see his kids excel, the overzealous sports dad can push too hard and drive a wedge between him and his children. And when a father fails to curb his competiveness, kids can learn the wrong lessons: Winning is everything; don't let other players hog the glory; the referee doesn't deserve my respect.
"We put unrealistic expectations on our kids many times, and we don't allow them just to have fun and enjoy it," Dungy says. "We've got to be careful and make [sports] positive and make it something that the young person enjoys."
In the other articles in the "Dads and Sports" series, you'll learn how to get the most mileage out of your kids' sports involvement. Whether they're in peewee soccer or high-school football, you'll discover practical strategies for helping them learn all that athletics can teach them. Suggestions from fathering experts will also guide you around the common dangers and show you how to keep the action on the field both fun and positive.
You are the most important coach your kids will ever have. Use your influence to help them achieve their full potential — in sports as well as in life.