Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Three Girls, Three Sports -- Springfield Dad Josh Wanner

How many of you are like me?  While growing up you played as many sports as you could—baseball, basketball, football, and even soccer (VERY little)!  I was NOT the best athlete.  There were many of my teammates who did a much better job than I ever did.  But I tried hard and hoped my coaches thought I did my best.

Now you are all grown up and your children have grown to an age they are ready to start playing organized sports.  How are you going to handle it? Are you worried about being the "loud" parent, the "expert" parent, or the "complaining" parent?

When our children start playing sports, we tend to put on the blinders.  We, as parents, are tempted to see our child as the next Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, or even Nolan Ryan.  "Our kid is the next superstar!"

They might be, but they are only five!  So, let's consider the practical development of our child's athletic abilities first before we get them a major-league contract.

Maddy age 3
I traveled a few weekends back with our middle daughter, Maddy, to a soccer practice a few hours away from our home.  On our ride home I started reflecting on beginnings.  Maddy has been playing soccer since the age of three. "Mob ball" is what we called it!  We watched both teams in one big mob going after the ball.  Trailing behind the cluster of players and with their flailing limbs trying to hit the ball was our sweet little Maddy.  We observed our precious, little, glasses-wearing, curly-haired blondie waiting for the ball to be freed from the clutches of the mob and have a chance to give it a big kick.  Every once in a while, the ball bounced out and Maddy ran after it, only to be overtaken by the mob once again.  Then Maddy  assumed her position of trailing the mob in hopes of another chance.
As I write this, I can't help but giggle a little bit.  For our family, each of our girls started their "athletic career" with soccer, but each of them have taken to sports in their own way.

Our oldest, Emily, started playing soccer with her classmates as early as the age of four.  I can remember having that discussion with my wife about, "Why so early?" "Can't we just wait a year or two?"

Yes!  I, the father, was the one questioning the involvement of my oldest daughter in organized sports.  But, to no avail.  My wife's persistence won out and Emily started soccer.  Looking back on those early years, it was fine.  Actually, it was more than fine, it was great!  Organized sports was a great opportunity for our girls to learn about cooperation, sportsmanship, and having fun with teammates.

Emily age 5
Emily was able to enjoy soccer, be with her friends, play, and have FUN!  End of story!  There were no problems or issues because we, my wife and I, didn't allow for problems or issues to rise up. If Emily had a problem, whether it was with a teammate, a coach, or an injury, Kari and I discussed it and approached each situation as we should . . . as adults.  We, as the parents, didn’t allow the emotions of our child to pull us into a corner we couldn't get out of.  To this day, we strive to keep a level head when dealing with any of our girls and the woes of life they may be experiencing at that moment.

I'm not going to say we are perfect. We have made mistakes, but like so many before, we tried to learn from those mistakes . . . Kari and I did so many "right" things with our first two girls. Even the things we got wrong, we tried to fix and perfect. So, when our third, Olivia came along we thought, "We’ve got this!"

Olivia is four years younger than Maddy.  Since the day she was born, she was toted from soccer game to soccer game and every single event of her two older sisters.  When Olivia was old enough to play soccer, why wouldn't she play?

Olivia age 4 refusing to play!
When the time came, Olivia got the shoes, shin guards, socks, practice shirt, and a ball. She was decked out and ready to go!  We, as a family, drove to practice, set up our chairs, and watched Olivia stand!  Yes, I said stand!  She refused to "play".  She refused to kick a ball.  She just flat out refused!

Honesty time:  This was a parenting nightmare.  No parent wants to have to deal with a stubborn child.  We tried all the tricks . . . bribery, empty threats, treats, we even had our oldest stand in the field with Olivia holding her hand.  I will say, the last one did the trick.  Or, at least, it got her through a game without tears. 

In the end, soccer was just not Olivia’s sport.  After a short bout with basketball, which went a whole lot better than soccer, we finally found the activity Olivia has a passion for—gymnastics!

So, there we have it!  Three unique individuals, pursuing three unique sports.  Emily stayed with soccer up to the age of 10, and then found her heart pulling her towards cross country and track and field.  Now each of our girls pursues what interests them.—Emily with running, Maddie kicking the soccer ball, and Olivia flipping head over heels in gymnastics.

When our children get involved in organized sports, we want them to do well.  We want them to succeed.  We want them to be the best.  But the reality of life, not everyone can be the best.

Our job as parents is to encourage, love, and support our children in all their endeavors.  They may not always do what we want them to do, but we must want them to do what they love.  Help your child find what they love and encourage it for generations to come.  You never know, your great-great granddaughter might just be the next gold-medal badminton Olympian!

Josh Wanner is the father of three girls.  He and His wife, Kari, live in Springfield, MO where he works as the Technology Director for Redeemer Lutheran Church and Springfield Lutheran School.  He can be reached for question or comment at jwanner@rlcmail.org 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Competition versus Cooperation -- Dr. Jennifer Baker

“In what areas of life do you find yourself most competitive? At work? In athletic activities? In card or board games? Debating controversial topics? “

That’s what the men at this week’s Good Dads lunch talked about around the tables on Tuesday. It was a lively discussion. We had just listened to Coach Dave Steckel, Missouri State head football coach, talk about the important qualities required for successful athletes. He emphasized the importance of A, B, C and D – attitude, behavior, care (as in caring about what we do), and discipline. These things, he said, were important to being a good competitor.

But Coach Steckel also said he thought children should not be introduced to organized sports at too early of an age. The experts agree. “Stec,” as he is also called, emphasized the importance of participating in more than one activity, being a well-rounded athlete.

So where does that leave us with competition? When and how early should a child be introduced to competitive activities? Is there a danger in starting too soon? How do you guide a naturally aggressive child who focuses on winning early and often? What about the child who enjoys playing with others, but demonstrates little concern for winning?

Competition does have its pros and cons. It can motivate people to try harder and do better. It offers an opportunity for children to learn to win and lose gracefully. It is “real life” in that we don’t always win or get what we want.

On the down side, too much competition can promote anxiety and damage self-esteem. It can encourage counter-productive activities like cheating or a lack of teamwork. Too great a focus on competition can also be a distraction,for example, a child worries so much about what she is doing she has difficulty being “in the zone” of the game. Experts are most concerned that many children, by junior high age, resist participation in a activity because they don’t see themselves as good enough, i.e., if they can’t have a reasonable chance of winning, they prefer not to engage. This is not good news for the rising trend in obesity and an obsession with "screen time."

Relative to competition, cooperation is held in much higher regard by many. Experts say cooperation brings out the best in us, e.g., higher salaries, higher grades, greater creativity and increased self-esteem. Participants in an activity that requires cooperation also express a better sense of community, belonging and acceptance. They feel more in control of their lives and less dependent on the approval of others.

On the down side, too much cooperation can result in “group-think,” the “yes-man syndrome,” or misplaced conformity. We need leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. We need people who know how to get along with others, but aren’t afraid to stick up for novel or unpopular ideas.

So how do we help children learn to compete and cooperate? Consider the following:

     Focus on doing well. Coach Steckel said it. I recall my father saying it. I’m thinking every good coach says it. The best players learn to compete against themselves, paying attention to how to improve their own ability, as opposed to just beating an opponent.
     Notice excellence in others. Help your child notice the good efforts of others and comment encouragingly. When you teach them to observe excellence in team members and say positive things, you reinforce the importance of working together, celebrating the abilities of all.

Reinforce team effort. Comment positively on the ways and times in which your child works well with others to achieve a shared goal, in athletic activities and other projects. This will help your child avoid thinking he is the center of his own little universe.

It turns out that children from about 3rd or 4th grade up tend to enjoy activities most that require cooperation and competition. They benefit from working as a team to achieve a common goal. They like to play a part in helping their group be successful. It's not an "either or" situation, but rather the right combination of both with a greater focus on collaboration and cooperation the younger the child.

Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She can be reached for question or comment at jennifer@gooddads.com.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Guardians of Their Galaxies

Both my wife and I grew up in homes where our parents worked hard and took care for not only of what they labored, but also of what they had been given. When it came time for us to raise our own family, we knew we wanted to instill in our children the idea of being good stewards or guardians of the resources and gifts this life afforded. Children and adults alike seem to appreciate things more when there is the element of “ownership” or “buy-in.” When we hear the word “steward” or the term “resource management,” we most often think of money, but there are so many other “resources” that we can teach our children to be thoughtful and caring guardians of.

Much has been written regarding money management and children. Some financial gurus suggest the save, give, spend method, instructing the young in the art of taking care of personal needs and wants, while blessing others who might be in need. We definitely saw a difference in the management of monetary resources when our boys were the ones working for them. A child, or adult for that matter, is more apt to think before rapidly spending on items that are foolish or unnecessary. But, what about resources other than money, aren’t they worthy of our attention as well?

Parents, and often fathers in particular, struggle with managing time and especially time for family. This is one of the reasons it is so important to emphasize the management of the time resources right along with the financial resources. If we only focus on setting good examples in wisely using our money, what are we saying to our children? It seems that to so many people, money is more important than time, and often more important than people. They would not say that, but the way they live certainly demonstrates that value. 

Of course, I am not saying that we don’t need to work hard and provide for those we love, but with the hard work ethic we need to slip in the “making the most of our time” ethic. Working smarter so we can enjoy the people and activities we love. Do you have a planner or calendar of some sort? Let your children see it. Make fun, bright, easy-to-read and understand poster calendars for your little one’s room. Have fun checking off tasks and celebrating accomplishments. Point out the glory of getting the work out of the way in such an expedient manner that your family finds extra time for that movie night.

In addition to finances and time, what about natural resources? You don’t have to make Earth Day shirts and start living off the grid, but could you run the shower less and turn the lights off in unused rooms? Little wastes and thoughtlessness adds up, and it’s so good for our children to learn the concept of conserving at a young age. My wife and I laugh about our fathers yelling, “Shut the door! I’m not paying to heat or cool the entire neighborhood!” and “Close the closet doors and turn out those lights!” It drove us nuts as kids, but we both are very careful to do all of the aforementioned because of the wisdom that comes from being responsible for the bills. Just the other day we received yet another confirmation that our now grown sons were watching us shut, close and turn out all along.

“Dad,” my oldest said over the phone, “we just got our electric bill. Seriously, it was ridiculous! Now I totally get your constantly badgering us to turn the lights out and shut the doors.” I laughed, but grimaced in hopes that this wasn’t the only thing he saw me managing well during his formative years. I didn’t have to worry for long. “It’s been a long week. I haven’t had much time at home with my wife. I went in early and stayed late tonight so we can have the whole day together tomorrow. It stunk to be at the office so long, but so worth it when I think of the family time we’ll now be getting.”  Guard your galaxy son. Guard your galaxy. 

Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at kweaver@network211.com

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Helping Children Beyond the Here, the Now and Themselves -- Jeff Sippy, Dad-in-Training

No family is perfect and every family has its secrets.  The secret in our family was kept for 35 years. 

We were to go on a picnic on a Sunday afternoon right after church.  The house was to be clean. Everyone was to be up and ready for church.  No fighting.  As soon as you get home get going, get your clothes changed, and get in the car.      

I believe the sermon was on Forgiveness.  If it wasn’t it should have been.  But there would be no forgiveness that day.      

Picnics were a sacred thing in our family.  Mom would fry up the chicken, put it under foil, and put it in the fridge.  Her potato salad is the best in the world and a tempting midnight snack.  But the unspoken rule was well understood:  Don’t touch the chicken.  Don’t get into the salad.      

We got home from church.  The absolution was pronounced and judgement was to come.   Mom opened the fridge.  The foil was not in place.  A piece of chicken was gone. 

Parents need to realize that children are not merely being raised for the moment or for themselves.  “No” can be a very good word.  We want to raise children who think more of others than of themselves, who are content with what they have, and who are generous with others.             

Mom went into orbit.  It seemed to last forever before mom and dad finally dashed out of the house with the chicken and potato salad.     

It was quiet for a time until someone dared to ask the obvious:  Who took the chicken?  No judgement. No guilt.  No shame.  But no one confessed. 

My parents instilled great values in us.  Life is not all about you.  Put the needs of others before your own.  Be content and grateful with what you have.  Don’t live just for the moment and don’t live just for yourselves.   

For 35 years no one spoke of the matter until Mr. and Mrs. Sippy’s 50th anniversary.    It was a grand occasion.  But the question had to be asked.  In the midst of the merriment my sister Renee insisted that the secret finally be revealed.  “Who ate the chicken?”   

The room was silent until a quiet voice finally spoke.  “I ate the chicken.” 

The room erupted.  It was Dad -- Don Sippy!  My Dad cried he laughed so hard.  My mom kissed him and told him how terrible he was.  “You made those kids suffer all those years!”

We suffered very little.  My parents delivered us from ourselves.  They taught us to put the needs of others before our own.  They taught us to live not for the moment and some instant gratification.  They taught us to be content with what we have and generous with others. 

It’s no secret:  Being a parent is no picnic.  But it is easier when we help and encourage each other.   

Jeff Sippy, a Dad-In-Training, is the father of three young men and the husband of Cindy. He enjoys sailing every chance that he gets. He is the senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Springfield, MO and can be reached for question or comment at jsippy@rlcmail.org