Sideline Thieves

Sideline Thieves

If a thief would attempt to rob your child of his or her potential what would you do?

You need not answer.

I am certain that every loving parent would become a protective beast ensuring that come hell or high water their own child would be at liberty to become their best selves. In fact, we probably wholeheartedly agree that our role as parents is to nurture the talent of our children in a positive and productive manner.

So, here is the catch. Please permit me to be blunt.

We do not maximize the potential of our kids by robbing them of the most intriguing and complex component of their development – their intelligence.

And here’s the toughest question I must pose myself as a sideline enthusiast.

Am I my child’s thief?

Am I robbing my son or daughter of any component of a cognitive process so vital to performance on the field?

  1. Perceive (scanning the environment for relevant cues)
  2. Conceive (divergent thinking in order to create options)
  3. Decide (convergent thinking in order to select the best option)
  4. Deceive (disguising intentions)
  5. Execute (the technical execution of the option selected)
  6. Assess (an evaluation of the choice and the execution)

When I tell my child that there is “someone on their back” – I rob her of perception. When I demand that my child “pass it to the wing” – I rob her of conception. When I scream out instructions to “shoot” – I rob her of decision-making. When I shout that she “should have passed it to the far post” instead, I rob her of assessment.

In fact, unless I run onto the field myself, the only thing that I cannot rob from her is execution. Even with my invasive instructions, my child must actually pass or shoot the ball herself. Having said that, I have seen some parents come perilously close to actually getting on the field. Thank goodness we have sidelines in the first place.

If I want my child to be intelligent I must nurture his capacity to think.

The only way to do that is to let him think. I would not micromanage his response to a math teacher’s classroom question any more than I should disrupt the challenges posed by the opponents in the soccer classroom. The field, like a dance floor or art studio, must be a sanctuary for experimentation, for freedom of expression and freedom of thought. At times, my child will certainly subtract when he should have added; he will most certainly draw outside the lines. He will stumble as he dances. However, it will be his own process to perfect. He will calculate, draw or dance for better or worse but he will do it with ownership. And in the end, do I care more about perfect lines or a profound passion?

My child has a baseline that changes everyday and I will nurture any opportunity to let her raise that talent line herself. She will take on the challenges of honing the cognitive process. She will fail forward and frolic along the way. She may or may not become Pythagoras, Picasso, or Baryshnikov but her talent will mature with the patience and persistence required. That will be enough for me, her father.

So, I will make the commitment today not to be a sideline thief.

I will do the same for my child in soccer as I would in any other endeavor. I will sit and watch the cognitive process unfold in perfect imperfection. I will accept an error in mathematics and appreciate the effort.   I will accept stick figures as remarkable pieces of art. I will cherish a performance with plenty of notes off key. And I will watch my child perceive, conceive, decide, deceive, execute and assess many times across the pitch without robbing him of the maturation of his intelligence.

I will no longer be a sideline thief.

I will celebrate the awkward and awesome process of learning – win, lose, or draw.


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