Sports Coach Parenting
Updated: May 26, 2019
My phone rang on a quiet Sunday afternoon two weeks ago, displaying a number I didn't recognize. I picked up the phone, said hello, and quickly snapped into focus when I heard the teenaged voice on the other end. It was a voice I immediately recognized. It was Moe.
Now, I remember Moe, and I won't soon forget him because I remember the time Moe was angry at me. His tantrum was so severe that he broke my desk, pulled the doors off my wall, and graffitied my office. I won't—I can't!—soon forget him.
Back on the call, I said, "Moe! How are you?"
And in a very sheepish voice, he responded, "Hi. I'm just calling to say thank you for saving my life!" I was shocked—and so very gratified. This meant so much to me. For Moe to call and say thank you truly showed that he had come full circle.
Here's some background on Moe so that you can understand the magnitude of his accomplishments. The first time Moe came into my office, he was about fourteen years old and had failed everything in life. He was a failure at home and at school, and was involved in all sorts of negative and illegal activities. I knew I only had a few minutes to reach him, or he would write me off just as he had written off everyone else in his life. So, I started talking to him and quickly realized that he had a profound, analytical way of seeing things.
So, tapping into his strengths and interests, I started asking analytical questions. We had a remote-control plane on the side of my desk, so I said, "Moe, have you ever wondered how these airplanes don't fall from the sky? How do they actually stay up in the air?" He explained the technicalities of aviation and I expressed my admiration of his expertise. We went from topic to topic in this manner. I asked, he explained, I expressed my approval. I said things such as, "I don't know how you figured that out!" "I would have never thought of that!" or, "That's brilliant. Where did you get that idea from?"
This idea is something that all of us have to do with all our children and students. On the surface, there appears to be two general ways of working with children and students. We could be strict disciplinarians, or we can go to the other extreme and become our children's friends.
Both extremes, however, have severe repercussions. Being too strict without taking into account the concept of "chanoch l’naar al pi darko" will alienate and push our children away. On the other hand, becoming our children's friends will lead to an erosion of the concepts of authority and will cut away at our ability to direct and educate them.
The technique that I used here is what I like to call Sports Coach Parenting. When a sports coach speaks to his team, he doesn't start with giving direction and coaching. The first conversation with his team is a rallying call. "Guys, you guys are awesome! You’ve got this! You guys are champions!" Before a sports coach gets anything from his team and before he asks anything from any of his players, he makes that player feel empowered. He makes that player feel that they have the ability to succeed and that they can conquer whatever challenge is in front of them.
But, there's another facet to a sports coach. A sports coach doesn't disregard failure. He holds his players accountable. He will bench his players, and when he benches those players, they may be angry with him. They may break his proverbial desk—just as Moe did to me.
But a good sports coach knows that a little anger is okay and the anger, properly channeled, may even be beneficial. He knows that players need to both feel empowered and be held accountable in order to achieve everything that is within their potential.
This is true in every area—not just in big-ticket issues, but in small interactions as well. When, for example, we are dealing with a young child and trying unsuccessfully to get them to bed, the first thing we have to do is make them feel empowered. "Look, you're amazing. You know how to listen so well."
More globally, this is true as well. This is what I did with Moe.
If I had to pinpoint the one thing that caused Moe to succeed, it would be this mindset and approach. He was built from the very first interaction. He was made to feel that he had it in him; not with cheap, insincere words, but with genuine warmth and authenticity. His true strengths were brought to the fore. Just as importantly, he was held accountable. He was held accountable to such an extent that it led to the tantrum that wrecked my office. Our children need a right hand that draws them close and a left hand that pushes away.
These two extremes are both so vital and every child needs a mixture of both. But the inspiration and the feeling that "I CAN DO THIS" has to come first. Our children have to feel empowered in order for us to hold them accountable and teach them right from wrong.