Letting Them Grow Jul 1, 2013

Tom Curry

If you don't give your kids a chance to handle their own problems and act on their own behalf, they will never grow. Give them the opportunities to learn, grow, win and lose...but on their own. You will be amazed by the results!

(From EP Magazine – July 2013)

By Tom Curry

In my role as Director of Athletics, I am often amazed at how many times I see parents do things for their children. Simple things that need the child's attention or some effort are often handled by the parent. Since I also teach at the college level, I can tell you that doing too many things for your children many times leads to disaster in college. Some students simply cannot handle the transition from high school to college and the increase in responsibilities it brings. The primary reason is that mom and dad, whether intentional or not, have not encouraged (or forced) them to handle their own problems. They haven't learned how to talk with and to adults, solve their own problems and accept responsibility for their actions.

Some of you may be wondering what this would have to do with athletics. I will tell you that if you watch accomplished athletes at the high school level, many exhibit a self-reliance and resiliency that is only developed by taking responsibility for their own success. These students make no excuses for their success or failure. They understand that the outcome in most cases is dependent on what they do and how hard they work. It's a pleasure to have them on teams and coach them as they continue to mature, grow and achieve.

I'd like to share a story with you about my daughter. Elizabeth ("Lizzie") was not the best athlete in her high school. But it did not stop her from trying out and being on the team. Her high school started a girls' lacrosse team in her sophomore year and the skill level of all the girls on the team was what you might expect from a beginning program. The coach was a first year teacher who had played some lacrosse, but not experienced in coaching at all. In Lizzie's junior year, the coach told the team that it had some games in the spring vacation period and that the expectation was that if you were on the team, you would be there. She also stated that the girls would sit out the same number of games they missed when they returned from vacation the following week. Lizzie stayed and played with 11 other girls during the vacation week. Since only 12 girls were available, the team had only one sub during the vacation week. Those 12 girls played all of the minutes in the team's three games that vacation week. The rest of the team chose to go on vacation and test the coach's metal on the vacation issue.

Now it happened that the first game back after the vacation happened to be against the school I was athletic director at during that time. I went to the game and watched as my daughter and two other girls who had been on the group that had stayed sat on the bench and watched three of the girls who had been on vacation play almost the whole game! Needless to say there was steam coming out of my ears at the end of the game. As I waited for Lizzie to come up the path from the stadium, I had to disguise my anger. She had so looked forward to playing against my school and there she sat the whole game, only playing the last minute, while the vacationing girls played the whole time. I greeted Lizzie with a hug and told her I was impressed with her team's hustle and their improved play. She told me she and the other girls were angry that they didn't play and that the coach had gone back on her word. I took off my "dad hat" and I put on my athletic director/coach hat and suggested that there would be plenty of days ahead and that the team would need all of them. As the coach headed up the path, I must admit that it took all the strength I had to not have a few words with her about her handling of the situation. But that would not have helped Lizzie. I wanted her to handle the situation.

A few weeks later, the season ended. The girls who had played during the vacation and then sat and watched the returning girls play in their place let it out that they would not be playing next season. I told my daughter that if she was planning on quitting, she needed to go to the coach and tell her why. It was "big girl" time and I was not calling the coach. "Lizzie, your coach is young and learning. She might learn more coming from you than she would from me. Give her the respect to tell her face to face than to just not say anything and not play next year", I told her. Elizabeth did just that. She explained to her coach how disappointed she was ...not so much in not playing, but that the coach had told the team that there would be repercussions if they chose to go on vacation. It just wasn't right for the kids who stayed to sit and watch the kids who went away.

The coach responded that the parents of the girls who had gone away had pressured her (and the principal) the day of the game to let the girls play. Since she didn't have tenure, she was left with little choice but to play those girls. She hadn't thought about the feelings of the other girls on the team and now felt terrible. She wanted Lizzie and the other girls to reconsider and play the following year. Eventually, Lizzie convinced the other girls that were about to quit to stay and play— and the coach's respect for my daughter and her leadership grew during her senior year. So much so that she nominated her for a terrific county wide award for leadership and sportsmanship. My daughter did not win the award. But she did grow from that experience and won better battles which would be ahead.

At 23, she is now a manager for a hugely successful restaurant in New York City. She started the job at 21! She is competent, self assured and able to handle the many challenges she faces each day at a young age. She will soon be ascending to another level in the company, thanks to her ability to face challenges head on and work with people younger and older than her.

As I write this article, Father's Day is a few days away. As a dad, I am proud of my three kids. All were fine athletes. My oldest, Tom, is a teacher and coach. Sean, his younger brother has his own business. Both are doing great and enjoy what they do. Lizzie, the youngest loves her job and I marvel at her ability to handle the craziness of a high volume, successful restaurant at a young age. Athletics taught them so many valuable lessons growing up. There wasn't any magic to the process. Each experience brought a new lesson to the table. I can only tell you that I always encouraged my kids to handle their own problems, learn to speak to adults and peers respectfully at all times. I've done that in coaching the many athletes I have come in contact with as well, and have many great relationships with former players who have grown into fine men and women. If you don't give your kids a chance to handle their own problems and act on their own behalf, they will never grow. Give them the opportunities to learn, grow, win and lose...but on their own. You will be amazed by the results!

Have a great summer!

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