By Contributing Writer, Kim Doebler
Preparing children for adulthood is something we start early at our house. We tell ourselves from the beginning that we are raising adults and not children, so our eyes are always looking ahead. Obviously we do not require of a toddler what we would require of a preteen, yet the mindset of raising adults keeps us from stalling before the goal of maturity is reached.
If we view ourselves as coaches, our parenting will look different depending on the age and maturity of a child. I would like to share a broad outline of the stages we go through with our children.
Beginning Gymnastics–Ages 0-1 year
When a child first starts gymnastics, the coach does everything for the child. As soon as the coach wants the athlete to do a somersault, she has the child squat down, holds the child’s head tucked down, and pushes the child up and over. As the child completes the flip, the coach praises her success.
This is how training of children looks early on. We help them do the right thing while praising them for doing it. When it is time to clean up the blocks on the floor, we say,”Put your blocks back in the basket, Honey.” At the same time we hold our little one’s hand and help her pick up one block after another, singing her praises of doing a good job the whole time.
Personal Trainer—Ages 1-3 years
The next stage is personal trainer. The closest I have ever come to having a personal trainer is watching The Biggest Loser on TV. Theses trainers are right in the trainee’s faces pushing them to improve. The trainers watch the athlete’s form, number of reps, and amount of effort, and continue to slowly but consistently ask more of each athlete.
The personal trainer stage with our children includes being ever aware of what they are doing. Listening for bad attitudes and correcting right here, right now. As soon as our toddler throws a toy down in disgust, we go over to where he is and tell him “No, we don’t throw toys.” Then we instruct him to pick up the toy and have him redo the scene correctly.
First year soccer coach–Ages 3-6 years
A first year soccer coach exposes the players to rules and guidelines. As children first start soccer they don’t grasp strategy or the idea of offense and defense; they just want to chase the ball. The coach diligently explains the rules of the game and tries to guide the children in the basics of the game. When the children continue to forget their positions and chase after the ball, the coaches understand that learning takes time.
These early years are when we begin to explain how to “do life,” with a large dose of repetition. Explaining looks like talking through the daily chores with a child while they “help” in small ways. Dad sets a little one beside him while he changes a tire and has the child hold the bolts. We begin asking the children to do their part, although their part may not be all we hoped for. When the children first start mopping the floor it looks more like a water fight than help, yet skills are adding up.
A basketball coach–Ages 6-12 years
From six to twelve, parents take on the role of a basketball coach. At this stage each part of the big picture of basketball is worked on. Some children are strong at dribbling but need help passing. The coach is the one that monitors what each child works on to better their skills.
A player may be excellent at stealing the ball but won’t follow through with the score. The coach pulls that child aside and explains that, in a fast break situation, the player needs to move down the court quickly and do a layup. The coach would then show the player what this looks like. Next, the coach would have the player practice for himself. During the practice the coach would watch, encourage, and correct, until the player did a layup with ease.
In the same way, we coach our children for upcoming situations by explaining what might come, showing the child how they can handle it, and then practicing together until the child feels comfortable.
Team Building—Ages 12-16
The best teams work together. Although skills may vary, no one can do it alone. Coaches remind players to look for open players; to use each other. At this point, attitude really makes a difference. The team captain will be the player that encourages others and gets the most out of his teammates.
As parents we can instill the concept of the preciousness of others. Encouraging our teens to reach out and look for the good in others. All the skills up to now have been self-focused; now it is time to spread that knowledge around. Look for opportunities for children to lead and teach. As a coach you are still nearby, watching their proficiency and revisiting what needs help. Pray for and ask older siblings to build into the younger ones. As they help, they learn. As they learn, they grow.
Olympians know their sport. Rules are not the issue. Keeping fit is of utmost importance. Each day is used in some way to better their abilities. Coaches aren’t bringing in new rules; they are guiding the athlete to stay the course.
As we watched the divers in the Olympics, they would do the dive they had done a million times, get out of the pool and head for their coach. The coach would put his arm around the swimmer and speak a couple sentences to them. Perhaps a quick reminder to do a little more of something, then a “good job,” often a hug, and off to the rinse pool the diver went.
By this stage in a child’s life they know the rules. They have the skills to do life. Our role is to keep watch and pull them aside periodically to give them a pep talk. It is of utmost importance for our children to keep spiritually fit so they have something to draw from. More rules won’t help them; they need to draw from God’s strength and understand He is the Light to their path. These years are when we help ripen the fruit that our children are bearing.
Sixteen year old Susie may have fallen into lazily greeting others when she sees them. She says “Hello” but barely looks up and skips the smile. At some opportune time Mom or Dad can come alongside her and say, “That was a nice hello earlier, but it could use a little eye contact with a smile. Keep up the good work greeting people.” Your Olympian has been encouraged and strengthened for her next event.
Overview of Coaching
As at any stage of coaching, the effectiveness depends on how well the coach knows his athletes. He must reach them where they are at and point them forward. Laying a good foundation helps each stage progress smoothly. If steps have been missed, they can be made up, but it takes extra effort.
Not all athletes are the same; a coach must be realistic and motivating at the same time. Although a player may be asked to do things that come hard for him, it is the areas he shines at that the coach will push him towards.
Think of a volleyball team. Although they may have to fulfill all the roles at times, they each have their key roles. Some are setters, others blockers, a person may be rotated in to serve, or it could be spiking that is their strength.
In our role as a coach, we want to bring out the best in our child. Each child will be different, each child will require a little different coaching approach, yet, we are raising winners IF we don’t give up too soon.
Our goal is to get our children to adulthood in shape; not flabby or average, but fit for the race set before them. Both as parents, and as a goal for our children, we need to live out I Corinthians 9: 24:
Do you not know in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.