Some kids specifically learn their lessons from parents and relatives; others get their mores through religion.
I’ll say it: Unfortunately, there are some children that are reduced to learning coping skills through sports participation and from sports idols.
There is some good and bad in that process, and I’m not here to condemn parents that allow it to happen.
There is not an instruction book that comes with the responsibility of raising a child. My only rule in raising my two children was “to be a better father than my dad was.”
I’m not saying that my father was bad, only that I thought that I could do a better job.
He was my only hero, my own personal demon, and thankfully my best friend before he passed away.
My father was a disciplinarian. He had been a career Army sergeant, giving him a clear decision process of what is right and what is wrong that left entirely too little wiggle room for grey areas. Trust me, I tested the grey areas and found that I was better off not testing the fringe.
From him, I learned a clear focus on what is good and what is bad behavior.
Eat all your vegetables. Work hard and do your best the first time. Don’t talk back. Play fair. Do not lie, cheat, or steal. Don’t start any fights but finish the fight if you can’t avoid it.
Those are only a few of the golden kernels that he left me with.
Did I pass those on to my kids in my attempt to be better than him?
Only time will tell.
This all leads me to how some kids don’t get the benefit of a two parent family or a single strong parental figure. Circumstances in life do not always allow every child the same starting points.
Children naturally gravitate towards sports. It gives them a release for their stored energy.
Along the way they learn the joy of competition and the satisfaction of winning. It can become a positive influence and feedback system.
Practice, hard work, and teamwork are good skills learned in the process.
Sadly, sports can teach the wrong things as well. Unsportsmanlike conduct, win at all costs, and cheating, to name but a few. In a twisted way these can gain a child positive feedback as well.
It’s not always wise to urge a child to emulate a sports figure. I could think of a number of athletes that seem on the surface to make great role models, like Nolan Ryan, Larry Bird, Billy Jean King, and Pele. There are many out there that you might hope your kids aspire to.
On the other hand, I can think of some athletes that at first glance seemed great as well; Mike Tyson, Pete Rose, and Michael Vick come quickly to mind. Honestly, I’m not to cool with Brett Favre or Michael Phelps at this point either.
As a parent, I would cringe to see those jerseys on my kids' backs or posters of them on their bedroom walls. We can not always rule or predict who children may look up to, but we can bring to light the repercussions of the bad actions those same athletes take.
I’m not passing judgment on the athletes. I’m not berating parents either.
The reality is, for most children sports are only going to be recreation, not a profession. If they are good enough to grow up and play professionally, then they are very fortunate.
I can only hope that those lucky few didn’t learn all their life lessons through sporting events on the field of play or from only idolizing athletes.
I don’t have all the answers and I won’t pretend that I do. All too often I have said something like, “Can you believe how so-and-so's kids were acting?” only to have that statement come back and bite me in the ass.
I just feel that it is in bad form to allow our kids to think that sporting figures have made all the correct life decisions just because of their fame. With today’s media exposure, we find all too often that an athlete’s heroics on the field don’t necessarily mean that they aren’t fools off the field.
Sports, like life, contains the same inherent good or bad that we can witness in the streets of any city or town on earth. Human nature can not be avoided.
We need to narrow the grey area of acceptable behavior for our children. I’ve done what I could for my children. I hope that in time they aspire to be better than me.
Maybe that is the fundamental lesson.
Be a better person than the one that preceded you.