The kid with the most points would be the winner. In spite of his efforts, when the game was over, my son finished way behind the other kids. Way, way behind. Detroit Lions behind.
I think it was his finest athletic accomplishment.
The object of the exercise was to jump over more obstacles than anyone else in the allotted time. Each player had to keep track of his own score. After a minute or two, when the game was over, he had to tell that score to the coach.
“Billy, how many did you jump over?”
“Wow! How about you, Shawn?”
It was clear that these kids had a bright future working as accountants for the mafia. Or Congress. Or both.
It came time for my son to answer his coach’s question.
“How many did you get?”
My son gave an honest answer and I was a proud father. It was like my son was just named to the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team. Wait. Is that an honor? You get the point.
We’ve all been told that sports builds character. That’s a lie. Most often, sports builds characters. The character building is the job of parents. We can use sports as a tool but we must never use sports as our replacement. If we do, we will soon find out that we have raised dumb jocks instead of men and women of character.
Developing your kids into men and women of character is hard work. Sometimes it requires being the bad guy. It always requires teaching your child that there are things that are much more important than statistics. Things like truth.
Raising a dumb jock is easy. The majority of your work is done for you by your child’s sport and his coach. All you have to do is drive the car to practices and games. But if things go your way, you won’t have to pay for your kid to go to college. And that’s what it’s all about, right? We’re just trying to give our kids the best opportunities possible. Opportunities that we never had. What’s the harm in that?
How quickly we forget.
Every year there’s a news story about an athlete cheating, fathering 12 kids from 11 different mothers, hiding the beaten body of one of those mothers in the trunk of his car and driving a scooter through town with a blood alcohol content of 1.0. And that’s just at Auburn University.
Opportunity, it appears, can be overrated.
A former Buffalo Bills running back had plenty of opportunities. But that didn’t keep him from murdering his wife and another man. Allegedly.
The Atlanta Hawks franchise leader in steals had opportunities. Again, those opportunities didn’t help him to avoid getting drunk, slamming into another car and killing a mother of five.
Opportunities are great. I want my kids to have them. But if I haven’t first done the hard work of character development, my sons will not be ready when those opportunities arrive. Opportunity, in the hands of a dumb jock, is a dangerous thing.
One day our sons and daughters will stop playing. Even if they reach the highest level possible in their particular sport, they will still have to make the long walk down from that mountain top. That’s the thing about sports. Everyone walks away. From the eighth grader who didn’t make the team to the 12-time All Star who can’t raise his arm above his head anymore, there comes a time when every athlete realizes that he’s no longer good enough.
And that’s where the job you did as a parent all those years ago really comes into play.
When your kid walks away from his sport, will he do so as a dumb jock or as a man of character?
A dumb jock who has spent all of those ever important opportunities he heard so much about from his parents when he was a kid is headed for an identity crisis.
But a man of character is different. Because of what his parents taught him, he will know going in that there are many things in life bigger than the game. When the time comes, he’ll teach those things to his own kids. He’ll be there on the sidelines watching them put those lessons into practice.
And he’ll be proud.
Even if his kids come in last place.