When Times Get Tough
August may be my favorite month. For many young athletes, it is a time of new beginnings. Football and other fall sports renew practice in a big way. Newly mowed football fields have an unmistakable fragrance. Gyms that were empty for the summer are filled with the sounds of squeaking shoes and bouncing volleyballs. Commuters watch as cross country teams pass them on their early morning workouts. This is the time of “two-a-days” with agony for athletes getting back into playing shape. It is a time for young athletes to “move up” a level to JV or varsity. It is a time to experience new challenges and opportunities. It is a time for athletes to test themselves; to see if they have “what it takes” to play at the next level, being a year older, stronger and more experienced.
And while this is a time of excitement and new beginnings, for some it will be a time of disappointment and re-focus. Some players will decide they can no longer endure the strenuous workouts. Some will be cut because of ability or because there is just not room on the team bus. It will be a time when players are divided between varsity and JV; starters and subs; first and second string. It is a time of discovering where individuals fit and where they can play. Sometimes the reality is hard to take.
Riding the Pine
In my own middle and high school athletic experience, at times, I had to face being cut from a team; playing JV an extra year; and being a bench warmer. At the time, those experiences were difficult. In each case, I waited my turn and eventually, I got my time in the spotlight. Many years later, I would discover that the view from the bench had made me a better teacher and coach. Being in a position to support my teammates forced me to use and develop one of my greatest gifts, encouragement; which has become the cornerstone of my life. I learned the value of supporting others. I learned more from the bench than I did on the field. I learned that everyone is not given the same gifts, but we are all given our share.
As Be There Dads at some time our children will be faced with challenges, obstacles, and decisions about everything from which sports to play, to which position to choose, to whether to play in the band or to try out for the school play. When they are older they will make choices about schools, jobs and spouses. While we want them to make their own decisions and grow, there will be opportunities when we can gently take them by the hand and offer support, encouragement and the wisdom of our experience. We can help them identify their unique gifts, remind them when they have forgotten that uniqueness and help them continue to follow the light on the path that God has set before them.
In one of his books, Robert Fulghum writes about confidence. He writes:
Ask a kindergarten class, ‘How many of you can draw?’ and all the hands shoot up. Yes, of course we can draw – all of us. What can you draw? Anything! How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle? Sure! How big you want it?
How many of you can sing? All hands. Of course we can sing. What can you sing? Anything! What if you don’t know the words? No problem. We make them up. Let’s sing! Now? Why not?
How many of you dance? Unanimous again. What kind of music do you like to dance to? Any kind! Let’s dance! Now? Sure. Why not?
Do you like to act in plays? Yes. Do you play musical instruments? Yes! Do you write poetry? Yes! Can you read and write and count? Yes! We’re learning all that stuff now.
Their answer is Yes! Over and over again, Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.
What Went Wrong
Try those same questions on a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play a musical instrument….
When asked why the limitations, college students answer they do not have the talent, are not majoring in the subject, or have not done any of these things since about the third grade, or worse, they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act…
Fulghum goes on to ask the obvious question, “What went wrong between kindergarten and college? What happened to “Yes, of course I can?”1 As Be There Dads we have a duty to help our kids gain their confidence, and then remember the positive answer to that question.
Growing up can be hard. Accepting who we are can be challenging and humbling. Seeing the lessons in disappointments is not always obvious when you are going through them. As Be There Dads we have committed to stand by our children, offering a steady hand as they seek to find the stones across the river. If the current intensifies, if the wind begins to blow or if the skies turn gray, we must not let go. We must stay the course. We have accepted that “when the going gets tough, Be There Dads get going”.