Lessons from Wrestling and Wall Climbing

“And a little child shall lead them.”

–Isaiah 11:6

Parenting does not come with instructions. At times it is definitely not intuitive. That is where education, experience, and intentionality define wise parenting. Parenting in youth sports is no different. One point of emphasis is shared leadership on the youth sports journey.

At what point is it appropriate to allow your young athlete to lead you? Leadership in this context is less like an instructor, and more like a dance partner. In dancing, it can be appropriate for either partner to lead as long as the movement is in harmony with the music and there is synchrony in purpose.

Recently I enjoyed listening to a mom talk about her young son’s involvement in the sport of wrestling. Youth wrestling leagues are organized by age as well as size of young athletes. The tournaments pair competitors accordingly. She and her husband had agreed to having Dad take the initial step of assessing their son’s readiness, and signing him up to learn the new sport of wrestling.

The boy discovered that not only did he like wrestling, but that he was pretty good at it. These two aspects often go hand- in-hand. The coach affirmed his progress by suggesting that he participate in a tournament. Dad and son discussed this possibility, and although the boy was nervous in this new situation, it was agreed that he would compete. It was also agreed that if the boy did not choose to partipate in subsequent tournaments, that would be up to him.

His first match went surprisingly well and he was able to gain some confidence. His next opponent was far more experienced–in fact he was the son of the coach–but our novice wrestler pushed past his fears and put up a great effort although he was defeated. The third match was a draw. All in all, the tournament experience had been successful. The positive results did not occur without Dad’s intentionality. Each step of the way the two of them had worked through the son’s anxiety surrounding the unfamiliar circumstances. Dad listened to his son’s concerns, encouraged and reassured him, but never pushed nor shamed him. This successful story is ongoing as the young athlete continues to enjoy his wrestling participation. He has become more skillful, stronger, and confident. All the while, his relationship with his dad has grown even deeper.

Yesterday I was able to learn about another example of wise sports parenting…or simply wise parenting. This mom has a 7-year-old son who had been invited to a birthday party at a wall climbing facility. Not only was the sports activity completely unknown to him, but he was a year younger than all the other boys at the pary. He was unsure about these new challenges but after talking it out with Mom, he made the courageous decision to attend. Mom was aware of his doubts so she opted to stick around for the party as she worked on her computer away from the action. From time to time, her son checked in just to chat. Then feeling affirmed, he rejoined the wall climbing activity.

Again, the wise mom collaborated with her son on decisions which affected him. She took time to listen and to acknowledge his doubts. She validated his feelings of uncertainty about a sports activity which was completely new to him. She then reassured and encouraged him appropriately. At last, she heartily congratulated him on his courage to sample new endeavors. These intentional parental actions allow a child to grow in self direction, independence, and positive self concept. No bribery, no shaming, no teasing needed. These parents were willing to allow their children to take reasonable risks in order to potentially reap enduring rewards.

Youth sports is a wonderul arena for this kind of growh to take place: physical growth, emotional growth, interpersonal growth, and growth in a healthy, trusting relationship with parents.

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