7 ways to raise independent athletes
Raising independent athletes is hard work. It takes a strong commitment to remain calm and not jump in every time you think your child needs. Here are some strategies to help you raise independent athletes.
- Teach responsibility. Provide your child with clearly defined jobs and communicate any consequences for not fulfilling the assigned responsibilities. The amount of responsibility should correlate to the age of the child. Smaller children will have smaller responsibilities. For example, picking up toys or feeding the dog. Accordingly, older children should have added responsibility. For example, learning to wash his uniform or remembering to bring all of his equipment to a practice or game.
- Require accountability. Kids don’t like to admit when they make mistakes in a game. There can be a number of reasons why your child does not admit to a mistake. Perhaps he is trying to protect themselves from feeling like a failure. Children attempting to deflect a mistake often do so by blaming a person, bad luck, unfairness or the officials. Children need to understand that they cannot take responsibility for their achievements unless they are willing to own their mistakes.
- Encourage conviction. Help your children understand that it is OK to peacefully disagree with someone. Acting as a behavioral model for your children is often the most effective way to instill this behavior. When disagreeing with someone, do not yell or blame. Instead, calmly and rationally advocate for your belief.
- Ask for input. Ask for your child’s advice on small tasks. This provides the opportunity for your child to learn that his opinion is important. Always express your appreciation when you child provides input.
- Allow boredom. Boredom provides opportunities for a child to reach within himself and find solutions. As a parent, it is not your duty to always eliminate boredom when it arises. If you always intervene with boredom-buster ideas, you will rob your child of growing opportunities.
- Allow failure. I’ve preached this a lot when it comes to youth sports, but it is applicable in many other arenas, too. Failure is one of life’s biggest teachers. When you protect your child from failure, you take away another chance for your child to develop character and strength.
- Encourage curiosity. Encourage your children to explore. Nudging them out of their comfort zones will allow them to test their own capabilities and grow in independence.
- Listen without judgement. Let your child express opinions and make decisions without jumping on them if you disagree. Initially, the choices will be inconsequential, such as what outfit to wear or what toy to play with. But as they grow, so will the decisions. For example, what college should he attend or who should she date? Listening without judgement doesn’t mean you never give guidance or express your concerns, it just means that you don’t stand ready to attack as they speak.
You can’t force independence
“Every child needs to practice being independent,” writes Michael Thompson, author of “Homesick and Happy.” “And every parent needs to practice letting a child be independent. Independence is like high jumping: You have to run and jump and sometimes fail, and then put the bar back up and run and jump again. As a parent, you’ll wince when your kids hit that bar, but you can’t jump for them. Ultimately, they’ll have a lot of sweet moments without you there to see them. But if you believe that your job is to raise your children so they will be ready to leave you, you need to be able to let them go and watch from a distance.”