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  • Sports and leadership

Your Daughter: Sports & Leadership

It is an understatement to say that many parents are busy. It can take a concerted effort to talk to our children. Unfortunately, most of us spend less than 30 minutes a day talking to our kids, and it’s often in the car when we have them trapped. But your daughter’s athletics can be an avenue toward a rich discussion about leadership that actually has meaning.

For example, I was talking to a mother the other day who was concerned about her 7th-grade daughter. Her daughter plays softball and is quite talented. She is showing more skill than the rest of her team. This mom was concerned that her daughter’s skills were decreasing as she played with her teammates. To be honest, sometimes I think parents get stuck on skills rather than the bigger picture. Rather than talking about how well a child played, I think there is something more important to discuss. Instead, focus the conversation on what she learned about herself that day. What values would you like your daughter to take away from the experience?

Leadership Development

When I talked to this mom about her daughter’s dilemma, I asked about how she thought her daughter was developing as a leader on her team. Mom shared that her daughter was frustrated that other teammates didn’t care about the game like she did. Mom herself was getting upset with the attitude of some of the parents. But I wanted to talk to Mom about what her daughter could learn about herself and others through this experience, rather than simply getting frustrated and angry. Her daughter needed to take control of her feelings and be a leader. This can be much harder to do than complain.

First of all, she needed to concentrate on being the best she could be. She also needed to serve as an example to her team. More importantly, I talked to Mom about discussing with her daughter what it takes to be a leader on a team. How did her daughter feel about assuming this role? I pointed out that Mom would have to spend time and talk to her daughter about what she needed to do to achieve this. So, the conversation shifted from the daughter’s complaints to encouraging her teammates to do better through her words and actions.

In our book, Finding Grit, we discuss the idea that you cannot ask what you are not willing to give, and that rings especially true for the daughter in this situation. For example, if’s she’s playing to the best of her ability and giving it her all, she can recognize other players when they hustle. But the other part of leadership is being truthful with her teammates when they’re not making a good effort. Leadership is about holding yourself and others around you accountable for what happens.

What is Leadership?

This thought led Mom to have a longer discussion with her daughter about how she could bring players up to her level rather than becoming frustrated with them. She reminded her daughter that there are always things in a sport that may be out of her control, but effort is not one of them. There is never an excuse for a lack of effort. A leader sets expectations, and the group will follow. This mom was asking her daughter to challenge her teammates to step up to the task. But like most everything in life, leadership takes practice, and it’s not easy. If you want to be a leader, you need to put yourself out there, and that’s often why many people remain followers instead of becoming leaders.

Mom then shared with me the thoughts she’d left with her daughter: “Sometimes I push you because I know you can do better. And often you get upset with me. But I hope that most of the time you understand that you are more capable than you realize, that it’s your own fear that gets in the way. Maybe the same thing is going on with your teammates, and you can lead the way.” From there, her daughter began the journey towards becoming a leader – with, of course, her mother’s guidance. We need to recognize that daughters don’t become leaders through magic, but with consistent advice and direction from parents and coaches.

The Bigger Picture

I looked at Mom and reminded her that success for a child can be a scary thing. It is always easier to back off and be a part of the crowd. When you are successful, people expect more of you. Your family has to determine what you think is best for your daughter and what she can handle.

This situation is just one example of how sports can help frame a discussion about issues that arise for our children. Did your child make an effort that she’s proud of? Does she regularly complain about her coach or struggle with her teammates?  Is she working hard outside of scheduled practices, or do you have to constantly remind her? Does she value herself when she succeeds, and does she learn when she fails?

There are lots of lessons to be taught and discussed through sports. I think these lessons are far more valuable than how many hits or goals a child had or how many mistakes a child made. In other words, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

By: Dr. Don Martin

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