Photo by Megan Rouillard
“Why is he being so mean to her?”
At first I didn’t know what my father was talking about.
“You know, telling her she’s just not doing well today,” he explained. “Always criticizing her, pointing out what she’s doing wrong.”
When it dawned on me what he was talking about, I bristled inside.
The coach he was talking about had been struggling to help his jumper get her jump back. We were standing near the long jump pit at the Meet of Champions – the track and field meet for the best athletes in the state. Jump after jump, the girl was just not getting past the 15 foot mark.
Her coach was quietly and insistently pointing out what she wasn’t doing. And telling her – without dressing it up – that she wasn’t performing today.
As I heard my father’s question, my mind went back to my weak attempt at track and field in high school. I tried javelin and was able to get a little power behind my throws even though I always ended up with the wrong end of the javelin sticking in the ground when it landed.
It didn’t take long for me to decide this wasn’t for me. And quit.
No one insistently told me to try again. No one discouraged me from quitting. And no one told me I was terrible at javelin but here’s what I was doing wrong.
After track and field, gymnastics fell to the wayside. Followed soon by varsity soccer.
My father didn’t push me to work on things I might fail at. He patted me on the back when I achieved in the shrinking arena of easy wins I had contented myself with. He never insisted I stick with things that I wasn’t good at. He never insisted I face my fears or figure out how to succeed.
I became more and more savvy about honing in on things I was naturally good at . . . and avoiding things that I risked failing at.
And each time I bowed out and skirted failure, I became less and less confident in myself. I never learned to take on a challenge. I became terrified of trying something I wouldn’t do well at. As the loser of all Dads, Al Bundy, from the sitcom Married With Children noted, “I never failed because I never tried.”
And I learned to cover up that lack of confidence with a big grin and sycophantic behavior.
My world and my self-esteem continued to shrink.
It took me eons to start facing my fears, throw away the crutch of an easy, flattering smile and demand respect from myself and others by doing the one thing I hadn’t done for so many years. Take on a challenge that scared me and figure out how to succeed through practice, focus, determination, and a growing dose of courage.
My father never gave me the gift that all parents need to give their children – courage and the self-confidence that comes from taking on life and all the curveballs and tough situations it throws at you.
Unfortunately, he’s not the only one.
It’s a growing trend – parents are encouraged not to put pressure on their kids. Always tell them, “Good job! Nice try!”
Even when the child hasn’t done well . . . and didn’t even try.
Now, certainly there’s a problem when parents dive into their children’s endeavors, living vicariously through them. Or when they try to enjoy glories they just missed or relive their own childhood glories through their children’s accomplishments.
Nor am I talking about foisting unrealistic expectations on your children. Or completely ignoring who they are because we want something different.
That’s not good.
What I’m talking about is different.
Our children need us to be honest with them. Our children need us to give them the respect of demanding more.
Our children need us to take on the very uncomfortable role of saying the hard stuff to them.
Our children need us to be coaches in ways no one else can quite do – criticize them with whole-hearted love.
They need us to demand more of them because we want them to realize their full potential.
They need us to push them because it doesn’t matter what they achieve . . .
It matters that they learn they are capable of more than they thought they were.
* * *
My daughter, Ariel, was next in line after the jumper who was having a hard time. She had just jumped 16 feet 5 inches which was up there as one of her best jumps. But nowhere near where she needed to be to place. And certainly not what she was capable of.
As I debated how to respond to my father’s criticisms of the coach, I realized my husband had left the throng of spectators. He had gone over to where our daughter was waiting to jump. And he was talking to her intently.
He returned to my side, and quietly brought me up to speed: “I told her in no short terms to stop playing around. She’s not acting as if she’s serious. She’s being too casual. I told her she needed to revamp her attitude and jump with ferocity – with an almost violent explosion.”
I could see his frustration in his face and I knew it was no easy conversation.
Ariel came flying down the runway. Her face filled with intensity. She hit the mark and flew into the air, landing in the soft sand.
Her coach, her teammates, me, my husband, her grandparents, the other parents gathered around, waiting with baited breath as they measured from her foot’s imprint in the sand.
“17 feet 4 inches,” the recorder announced.
Ariel’s sand-smeared face lit up. Her brother came racing at her and almost knocked her over with a hug.
She had taken her father’s “pushy” reprimand to heart and performed. Her 17 foot 4 inch jump was followed by a 17 foot 6 inch jump. She broke the school record – twice. And she ended up placing third overall in the state for long jump.
But most of all I knew, looking at her dirty, sweaty brilliant face – she had gained a new understanding of her own capacity. And what it takes to bring out all the power inside of her when the challenge called. Whatever that challenge may be.
And she couldn’t have asked for anything more from her dad.
What do you think?
About Sarah Clachar And Fit Family Together
Since expecting their first Since expecting their first child, Sarah and her husband Cassius have made fitness a core part of their family life. From biking to hiking . . . from the heart of New York City to a farm in New England, they have found a way to stay active together. And through all this exercising as a family they discovered that family fitness builds not only strong bodies – but stronger families.
A professional health writer with a BA in biology, gardener and foodie Sarah brings a wealth of expertise in nutrition and health. A personal trainer and inveterate tinkerer, Cassius brings innovation to making family fitness work.
Ready to make family fitness part of your family life? Take the Fit Family Together 7 Day Family Fitness Challenge and put your own family fitness plan together.