Is Over-Parenting Sabotaging Your Athlete’s Success?
The Key To Reaching Your Potential and Becoming A Great Athlete Is To Live Somewhere Between Comfort And Discomfort
Several years ago I was late to pick up my kids from school. I left work early, rushed to Jamba Juice for pre-practice smoothies, and got to their school about fifteen minutes late. By their reactions, you would have thought I had just committed a horrible crime. Their three little faces scrunched up and angry, in disbelief they had to wait. That night, reflecting on their ridiculous reaction, I got mad as I realized I had done this to myself. I thought all this time my job as their mother was to make sure all of their needs were met, and met quickly. I’d set out healthy snacks for them before they even got hungry, carried extra jackets, flip flops, granola bars, and water in the car … just in case they were hot, cold, hungry or thirsty. You get the picture. I thought I was being a good mom, anticipating their every need before they even knew they had one. Then I had my aha moment in front of the school that day. I wasn’t helping them, I was hurting them.
Hundreds of books and articles have been written on the subject of grit and the lack of it in our kids today. They need to be uncomfortable; they need disappointment and they need a lot of practice at handling these feelings when they arise. The effects of “helicopter” moms and over-parenting directly translates to their sports. If we deny them opportunities to be uncomfortable and to learn they can handle it in their everyday lives, then they will not be able to tolerate being uncomfortable in their sports either.
Pushing through discomfort is how you become a great athlete or reach your potential. A GOOD athlete can joyfully attend every practice and training, but the ones that will surpass that will consistently be uncomfortable.
In his book, The Mindful Athlete, author George Mumford (who is famous for helping Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant with his approach to mindfulness and sports), says athletes need to find a place right between comfort and discomfort and live there. Philosopher, Brian Johnson described it in a recent video as being like a rubber band. You can pull it, but if you pull it too hard it will snap and if you don’t pull it hard enough, it is limp. For athletes to improve, they need to live in that sweet spot, putting some stress on the band, but not breaking it. It’s the only way to reach one’s potential. This can look like many different things – say your child struggles at a practice – they can spend ten minutes working on what challenged them when they get home. Not an easy choice when they’re tired, hungry and have homework. But, it’s ten minutes in the discomfort zone, not an hour. Maybe it’s working on a new move during practice each day. They might fail at it several times and feel embarrassed, but if they do it consistently, they will get it down. And yes, this will be a lot more “uncomfortable” than doing the same move they’ve already mastered. Imagine if they did that for years, how much broader their talent and skills will have expanded. It could be as simple as playing or practicing up an age level once a week. Or if they are deficient in something, can’t go to their left, are not super quick, or can’t make a 3-pointer, then maybe ten minutes every day outside of practice, they work on that with focused training and intensity. Again, not a comfortable thing to do, but it could make a huge difference if done consistently. By doing these things, just a little bit, every day, these tiny incremental gains, over time will be huge.
In a recent blog, JP Nerbun spoke about about 1% growth: One of the phrases that coaches throw around a lot is, “Let’s just work to get 1% better today.” The truth is, this can and will translate to be a HUGE amount of growth. If anyone improves by 1% consistently, every single day, for a long time, then they would be insanely talented, regardless of where they started. It’s called potential and everyone has it, but it’s not enough to just have it, kids need to make the choice to focus on the process of getting 1% better EVERY SINGLE DAY, regardless of their circumstances. And yes, this will be somewhat or slightly uncomfortable to do every day in addition to all of the other demands on kids these days. But again, it’s those that are willing to be uncomfortable that will reap the rewards.
My children acting like the sky was falling because I was late, helped me recognize that I needed to push my kids out of their comfort zones early. But no matter how old your kids are, it’s not too late to make this change. Start by making small gestures (nothing extreme or too serious), but do it often and sprinkle them throughout your daily lives. Show up a little late to pick them up, let them miss a meal once in a while, don’t rush their lunch or homework assignment to school when they’ve forgotten it, let them suffer the natural consequences. Include them in chores around the house. They can do more than you think they can and it’s empowering for them to master basic things like the laundry and dishes or even more uncomfortable ones like cleaning up dog poop in the yard. Find things that will stretch them out of their comfort zones! You will be giving them practice at what life and sports are going to throw at them for many years ahead. Don’t rob them of all these chances to grow and learn, instead let them develop resolve and grit they might not have known they had.