Catch Them Being Good!

…A great title taken from a book written by Tony DiCicco (former women’s US National soccer team head coach) and Colleen Hacker, PhD (sport psychologist and consultant to this team).  It’s good advice for parents.  It works for co-workers, employees and even bosses.  And, sometimes, it’s hard to remember.

On Mother’s Day one year, I ran in a community 5K road race.  It was the second annual, held in memory of a 4 year old boy who lost his battle with leukemia and in support of families fighting cancer.  I ran last year, but this year promised to be more memorable.  Stephanie, my 12 year old daughter, lined up next to me to run her very first road race.

We took off well.  Steph and I ran together.  Then, about a mile into the race, Steph and I witnessed something we won’t soon forget: a father who was running backward barking instructions to his son as he struggled to keep pace.  Not encouraging, but cajoling, belittling, whining, threatening.  Colby could have been no more than 8-9 years old. 

Everyone around looked the other way, sickened by this behavior and embarrassed for this poor young man.  I couldn’t help myself.  I ran up next to Colby, with Stephanie by my side.  “At his own pace, Dad.  You’re doing great, Colby,” I said forcefully.  “This is my daughter. She’ll leave me in the dust in another mile,” I added, trying to keep the tone light.  This Dad looked like a former marine, 6’4” and crew cut.  But no sooner had we moved ahead than we heard the Dad berating Colby for stopping at the water station: “How stupid can you be!”  Audible sighs of loathing floated up from the other participants witnessing this.  This was nothing short of child abuse, and I felt powerless in the face of it.

Why do we push our kids like this?  Do we justify it as “for their own good?”  “They’ll be thankful when the scholarship offers come rolling in.”  Is it our job to motivate them to be all they can be?  It can be difficult to know where to draw the line, where encouragement becomes nagging, motivating looks like bribery, where their goals are really our goals for them. 

The divining rod is usually as simple as: do they want to do it again?  Will they do it on their own?  Even when we take away the trophies and the applause? To them, success may simply be running beside us or with a friend. It may be to gain confidence or just to see if they can do it.  Or it may simply be our smile for them when they cross the finish line – any finish line- congratulating them for their effort.  In short, “catching them being good” always works.  And, it inspires them to be their best. 

For the record, Stephanie finished a full minute ahead of me, smoothly sprinting under the banner of balloons at the finish line.  I watched her and my heart swelled.  Silently, I applauded.

What a great Mother’s Day gift!  I’ll try to keep catching her being good.  It’s worth the effort.  It pays off handsomely, even if there are no scholarships.  Colby, wherever you are, I pray that one day you will run your own race at your own pace.  Your road will not be easy.  But all the parents who watched you run bravely on this Mother’s Day re-committed to letting their kids be kids.  Thanks for the reminder.

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