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I am my son’s coach.

This year he was on a team with some friends from school, and I was the assistant coach.  The head coach was a great guy, and I loved that my son was learning from him and being influenced by him.  All in all, it was a good experience.  But it definitely wasn’t an easy season.  He is in 5th grade, and we had entered a league that was just a little bit too competitive.  We had won a close game, lost a couple close games, and had lost a couple by a lot.  And then, there was the 35-point blow-out loss.

Ouch.

Have you watched one of those games where the kids literally have more turnovers than points?  Where no matter how hard they try, they can’t get anywhere near the basket to score, and they can’t stop what the other team is doing?  You could tell that the team we played had been playing together for a long time, and they were great athletes and well-coached.  They were in a different league.  They crushed us, and they made it look easy.

This kind of game is physically exhausting, and mentally exhausting, and spiritually exhausting.

And as a parent, it is also one of the most important games that you will watch.  Shepherding your son’s heart through a tough loss is one of the most powerful moments you have as a dad.  Whether I am technically on the roster as a coach or not, as a Dad I am by definition “one who instructs or trains” my son. Anybody can cheer with their kids when they win.  It takes some serious Dad-Coach skills to handle a humiliating loss.

It’s not easy, so I’ve drawn out a game plan for handling a situation like this:

Immediately after the game

  • Look at your son’s face, and watch his body language. Then ask the Holy Spirit what to do.
  • Maybe you shouldn’t say anything.  Maybe you need to say “Nice effort out there, son. I’m proud of you.”
  • Maybe you shouldn’t touch him.  Maybe just put your arm around him and silently walk to the car together.
  • Be ready to make eye contact, but don’t force him to make eye contact. He may be just trying to hold it together so he doesn’t cry in front of his friends.  Chances are there is anger, shame, frustration, and fear all mixing together in an overwhelming cloud.

Next Phase:  Car Ride home

  • Read him and ask Holy Spirit for the next step.
  • Don’t preach or teach or scold or correct or give advice. You can be 100% correct at 100% the wrong time.  If the student isn’t ready, then a good teacher will wait.
  • Remind yourself that when YOU are in a situation like this, it all feels true.  “That was my fault.  I let them down.  I’ll never measure up.”  Or maybe “That wasn’t fair.  Why did they let that happen?”  Or maybe all of those things.
  • Emphasize the Truth:  You are loved because of who you are, not because of how you perform.
  • Help Him Interpret:  Their team outplayed our team, but that doesn’t make us a bad team.  That doesn’t make you a bad player or a bad person.  In fact, playing really tough teams like this actually helps us to grow and learn new skills!

At Home: 

  • Read him and ask Holy Spirit for the next step.
  • Assess his heart.  How’s he doing?
  • Think about your boy and pray.  What are some ways that he can misinterpret the loss?  What are agreements he can make with a lie?  What are unhealthy vows that he can make as a result?  Examples of Lies and Vows:
    • “It’s all up to me.  I’m on my own.”
    • “I’ll never come through in the big game.”
    • “I’m a loser.”
    • “I don’t have what it takes.”
    • “I don’t like sports.  I’m not good at sports.”
  • Validate the Pain: “I’m sorry buddy.  That was tough.  How are you doing?”
  • Reframe and Encourage
    • “You can grow more from a loss like this than you can from a win, in some ways.”
    • “A loss like this shows me more about your character than a win.  It shows me that you are tough, that you kept fighting even when it was hard.  You kept your cool and treated the other team with respect.  I appreciate all of those things, and I am much more interested in the young men you are becoming than I am in winning some games.”
  • Circle back to the truth
    • “God loves us because we are His kids.  Not because we earn it.”
    • “I love you because you’re my boy.  There’s nothing you can do to make me love you more or less.”
    • “Failure isn’t final.  We can get back up when we get knocked down.”

Next Day or Later that Week

  • Read him and ask Holy Spirit for the next step.
  • Assess his heart.  How’s he doing?
    • “Hey son, that was a tough loss on Monday. How are you doing?”
  • Chances are pretty good that by this time he’s moved on and is feeling better.
  • If he’s ready, now you can start teaching, coaching and giving advice
  • Whenever possible, start with questions.
    • “What did you notice from the game, as far as things for us to work on, things we did well, and things the other team did well?”
      • (If he points out the things to work on, there is a better chance he will be motivated to improve and won’t feel attacked by you pointing them out.)
    • “Do you have any questions about how the team and you can improve?”
      • (Even if he doesn’t have any questions, you are teaching him that he should be curious about how to improve, and that you may have ideas that will help him if he would only ask you.)
    • Then, after discussing his perspective, offer yours
      • “I noticed some things – do you want to talk about them?”
      • “It seemed to work best when you made quick passes to beat the zone, rather than trying to dribble through the trap.  I also noticed that they did a good job of getting back on defense, which is something our team can work on.  We had solid improvement in our boxing out, which is exactly what we worked on in practice this week.  That’s a win.
  • Circle back to truth, if you think it won’t sound too preachy.

Life Is a Sport

I used the example of a basketball game, because that’s real life for us.  But you may have this same opportunity with school work, piano lessons, or any other area where disappointment and challenges unite to give your son a humiliating knockout punch.  If you are ready to help him stand up, dust himself off, and keep moving, you will be equipping him for life.

Remember – whether your son plays basketball or not…

You are your son’s coach!  

The Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Teddy Roosevelt

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