A new philosophy, a new way of life, is not given for nothing.
It is acquired with much patience and great effort.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I love how Eastern thought and Native American tradition emphasize the essential goodness in all children. The Tao calls this essential goodness the way of the expansive spirit. Our work is to guide our kids to discover this goodness within themselves and to help them to become more mindful and to awaken to who they are and ultimately what they can be. When given this powerful opportunity, they will perform well in all arenas of life. Oftentimes we make the mistake of forcing or coercing our children into a direction that they resent, and as a result they offer counterforce. Preserving the inner goodness in our kids is a delicate process.
Such a process of nurturing the expansive spirit in your children can be accomplished by supporting your kids’ dreams, helping them to “think big” when it’s realistically possible. Timely, valuable feedback can help them to gain proper perspective. Truth and honesty must be strictly adhered to. Be sure to communicate often your belief in your kids and watch their confidence rise. With an open mind and heart to the passions, wishes, and desires of your children, you can help guide them softly in their chosen directions. In this process, each child discovers greatness within, holds on to his or her expansive spirit, and believes, indeed, that “I did it myself.”
You and your child can grow and expand to feel free, alive, positive, energetic, and strong. It is a way of true liberation — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In such a dynamic, spiritual relationship, you and your child never stop growing and expanding as you are both gently “pushed” safely into waters you once feared.
This is not unlike when a young child first learns to swim. A parent, standing in shallow water at the edge of the pool, implores his or her three-year-old son to jump. The boy may say, “No, I’m scared.” The parent again encourages the boy, who inches up to the edge but doesn’t go in. Again, the parent gently asks the child to jump, saying, “I will protect you. It’s fun.” Then the boy jumps and screams with incredible joy.
This book, Let Them Play, presents numerous specific behaviors, qualities, characteristics, and attributes that contribute to a healthy choreographed dance between sports parent and athletic child while preserving the child’s expansive spirit. This relationship is open, compassionate, and caring, and it exudes passion and inspiration for personal growth. A wise parent supports the dreams and goals of the child while being aware of the problematic tendency for parents to live vicariously through their children. Mindful parents provide much validation and affirmation of the child, which promotes self-reliance, confidence, and self-actualization in the young athlete.
Your faith in your child helps to reduce fear and anxiety in times of chaos and crisis. In a loving, compassionate, safe environment, your child can step away and risk failure, knowing that setbacks are simply lessons that help guide the way. While it may be unreasonable to expect any of us to function at this level all of the time, our heightened awareness of this approach will certainly raise the percentage of time that we function, teach, and guide from this sacred perspective. However, with courage, compassion, and respect, adults can make these changes for our children and learn to simply let them play.
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Parenting Aligned with The Principles of the Tao
This is a very special and exciting time to be a sports parent. We are truly blessed with a vital calling to create safe environments where our children feel free to open their hearts; only then can we step inside and help them to believe they can be something other than ordinary.
When sports parenting is aligned with the principles of the Tao, the more natural way, we become more humble, kind, nonjudgmental, intuitive, and selfless. We encourage positive focus and direction by modeling a more effective, enlightened style of parenting — one where cooperation and partnership are honored for the purposes of human dignity; one where you belong to the youth sports culture rather than own it; one where you and your child can blossom to your full human potential in an environment of unconditional positive regard.
To paraphrase the Tao Te Ching:
With good sports parents
When their work is done
Their task fulfilled
The children will all feel that
They have done it themselves.
Taking the First Step
The journey to parent more mindfully is just beginning, and it holds the key to much joy, success, and fulfillment. But as Dostoyevsky reminds us, this path requires much patience and great effort. It takes work, and work takes time. Start gradually with small increments at first. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Focus on each step, until the steps add up to a daily practice, and soon enough you will experience the rewards of progress.
Unlike most sojourns, which start and end at a predetermined destination, the beauty of this journey is that it is never ending. We will continually experience new and exciting sacred beginnings and positive change over the course of our entire life. When we shift our attitudes and beliefs about what is possible in our parenting, we redefine our potential, which is unlimited. We discover that there is no path to mastery; mastery is the path. It’s a day-to-day proposition where we continually self-improve and blossom as parents, as people, and become strong in all phases of our life. As the Tao Te Ching says, “Those who master themselves have strength.”
Sports parenting is an art — the art of selflessly serving and guiding softly while extending trust and respect to our children. Firmness through gently worded directives and commands will give our kids a sense of self-worth and belonging. They will tend to be more productive and play more optimally when we guide rather than rule them. This selfless, serving approach is a way to gain their trust and respect. To quote the I Ching:
Kindness and service toward others will create a spirit of unparalleled loyalty. They will take upon themselves... hardship and sacrifice toward the attainment of goals. It is necessary that you have firmness, selflessness, and correctness within, and an encouraging attitude toward those you guide.
This path offers many lessons in spiritual growth, and it can become a way of bringing families closer together. As I always tell young athletes, focus on the process, not the results, and the results will come. Or as Cervantes once said, “The journey is better than the inn.” Your kids are only young for a short time; they grow up so fast. Make the most of it.
Maybe the biggest parenting mistake you can make is to treat inner growth and change as serious business. Spirituality and laughter are not mutually exclusive. It is said that the Buddha awakens each day with laughter and dance, and Chinese author Lin Yutang, in his classic book The Importance of Living, reminds us that it is the wise soul who becomes a “laughing philosopher.” Yutang notes how we take ourselves far too seriously, and he emphasizes the importance of humor in creating a happy, peaceful life. Laughter restores our perspective and keeps the heart open for doing this important, mindful, and sacred work with our youngsters. We should aim to cultivate joyful, merry laughter in all that we do.
The path that we walk when parenting athletic children is like a dancing river, moving slowly at times when faced with obstacles and blockages, only to speed up again as the terrain steepens. At times, we feel as though we are not making any progress, like the river is reversing on itself, turning in different directions, as if it has lost its compass. Yet like the river, we steadily carve out our course, creating channels that, over time, enable us to fluidly flow in the desired direction.
Your path, like its watery counterpart, will have many reversals, setbacks, failures, and losses. All of this movement is a natural progression in your evolving process of being an extraordinary sports parent. This is, in fact, the same process that your children experience. We are all in the same boat, so to speak, which is why we should have compassion for everyone’s journey. At our best as sports parents, we acknowledge, trust, and accept this natural process. Without panic or fear, we allow our children to grow at their own pace and when they are ready. Without panic or fear, we allow ourselves to learn and grow at our own pace.
As a parent of athletic kids, I am still learning. I experience setbacks and failures, and yet I continue moving forward because the ride is worth it. Both despite and because of the challenges, it has been an amazing, continual journey of growth, fulfillment, and joy.
With renewed enthusiasm and an open mind and heart, celebrate this gentle way of parenting athletes by embracing the pure spirit of playfulness. Take your first step and dive into this place of heart, this sacred space of right action. Have fun, laugh, and know that there is really no other purpose to this journey than to become more awakened to the beautiful give-and-take between you and your precious young athletes — this soulful dance of mindful, conscious sports parenting.
When you do things from your soul,
you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
©2016 by Jerry Lynch. Used with permission of
New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
About the Author
Sports psychologist Dr. Jerry Lynch is the author of over ten books and the founder/director of Way of Champions, a consulting group geared toward “mastering the inner game” for peak sports performance. The parent of four athletic kids, he has over thirty-five years of experience as a sports psychologist, coach, athlete, and teacher. Drawing on his experience working with Olympic, NBA, and NCAA champions, Dr. Lynch transforms the lives of parents, coaches, and youth athletes.