Here are nine lessons a dad taught his son in sports, that have stuck with him throughout life.
USA Football: I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.
I was a sophomore in high school, and I was mad. I was offended. I was aggrieved.
I had been benched.
When I got home from school, I wanted someone to tell me how I was right and that the coach was wrong. I wanted someone to tell me that I was great, that my teammates who had replaced me were not. I wanted someone to validate my feelings.
My dad was an old school guy, born and raised in the Bronx. He was forced to retire from his dream job — the New York City Fire Department — after injuring his back during a fire. Life had been good to him and tough to him, and he certainly wasn’t intending to make it easy on me.
His goal wasn’t to make me feel better that day. His goal was to make me be better.
“John,” he said, “regardless of whether you think your coach is right or wrong, regardless of whether you think you are better or worse than your teammates, that is really all beside the point.
“The question you have to ask yourself is: ‘Have I done everything in my control to earn a starting spot?’”
I thought about it. “Yes, I’m better than those guys.”
“That is not what I am talking about,” he said. “That’s one man’s opinion. Here are some things that are not. Do you show up early and do extra work? Do you stay after and work on your game, or even run laps and improve your fitness? Do you pick up the cones when training is done? Have you gotten up before school yet this season to do extra work on the track, or against the kick back wall?”
“No,” I answered, not liking where this was heading.
“Well, until you have done anything and everything you can do to show your coach and teammates beyond any doubt who deserves to be out there, you have nothing to complain about. I suggest you get back to work and leave your coach no choice but to put you in, because right now he clearly has a choice.”
This was a defining moment for me as an athlete.
As a parent, I worry about my kids and how they will react to adversity. I get anxious when they encounter difficulty, when they are pushed extremely hard and when they want to give up. I get frustrated when they struggle. I don’t like to see them fail, because deep down, every time they fail it feels like a part of me is failing, and that doesn’t sit very well with me.
Yes, I want to intervene. I want to help them feel better, just like I wanted to feel better.
And then I catch myself. I think what would my dad say?
Here are nine lessons my dad taught me in sports that have carried me through life:
- Be coachable. Be a great listener, pay attention and do what the coach tells you, even when you see others doing the opposite and being rewarded for it
- If you are going to do something, do it right. Make a commitment and fulfill it. Do more than is asked, not simply the bare minimum required for participation. You can go fishing, go to that party and go skiing when your commitment is done, but until then you owe it to your teammates to be all in.
- Be honest. When someone asks your opinion, tell the truth. It is not always easy, and it is not always fun, but one day you will have a reputation as a person who others can go to when they need a hard, honest truth, not just someone who makes you feel better. The former is a true friend, and the other is just a fan. Be a friend.
- Shake hands, look people in the eye, and say, “thank you.” This demonstrates respect to coaches, officials and other people who have taken the time and effort to make your game, and your sport, possible.
- Be patient. Being really good at anything is a marathon. Some people may grow before you, and thus be bigger, faster and taller than you, but so what? That will all eventually even out, and then what? Will you be a better player, or someone who gave up because life didn’t hand you all the breaks right away?
- Embrace both failure and success. You want to do your best to win, but what matters more than the scoreboard is how you learned and developed. Don’t ignore mistakes because you won, and don’t dwell on them because you lost. Everyone makes mistakes, so you might as well make them trying to make a play, instead of trying not to make mistakes.
- Don’t slouch and pout. Your body language and your attitude matter. They affect how coaches, teammates and others perceive you, and if you are going to be a leader, no one really cares how you are feeling right now. Suck it up and be positive.
- Don’t hold a grudge. My dad coached high school soccer in various capacities for 17 years, and then was unceremoniously fired one season after a few parental complaints. I say unceremoniously because most years he donated his coaching salary to the school scholarship fund to help needy athletes. He bought equipment when the school had no budget. He ran extra training in the offseason at no charge to players or families. It broke his heart when he was let go, and yet the next year he once again donated to the school scholarship fund. I asked him why. “They do a lot of good for so many kids,” he said. “It’s not those kids’ fault, and they should not be the ones who suffer.”
- Be humble. Whether you win or lose, be humble. It’s just a game, and today was your day. Tomorrow might be theirs. Respect the officials, coaches and your opponents, because chances are you will see them again someday beyond the sports field, and what you do on it will affect how they think of you.
Mark Twain once said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
My dad is 81 this year, and he sure has learned a lot.
This article originally appeared on ChangingTheGameProject.com.
John O’Sullivan is the founder of the Changing the Game Projectand author of the bestseller “Changing The Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.”