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Creating Accountable Kids

A blog for parents

By Katarina Miller - July 24, 2018

As a follow-up to our previous blog discussing a parent’s role during their children’s training, I want to switch gears to the parents’ role in a different environment. Parents do not always fall-in-love with the idea of their hands being off-the-reigns during their children’s training. But one thing that I like to heavily emphasize with parents is that practice times are only one piece of the puzzle in a young athlete’s life; and to act like their influence at home doesn’t impact athletic performance would be to ignore an opportunity to help facilitate success.  Because of this, one way to frame your perspective on your child’s training is to think of the multitude of opportunities you have as a parent to complement what their coaches are already doing.  And notice I said complement; not supplement. I am not suggesting that at home you get to become an additional coach by adding to their training regime, but instead think of the unique experiences you share as parent and child and how you can capitalize on those moments.
Parents Role at Home
  • Accountability to training: This might be simple and intuitive, but it is still worth mentioning. When I say keep your children accountable to their training, I’m referring to all the practical and logistical ways you can support their physical training from home. Think of all the things that a coach is probably telling their athletes to do after practice, but do not get to reinforce because they’re not at home with their athletes. This can mean providing meals with the right nutritional value to support their body’s needs, this can mean structuring your household “rules” to ensure healthy sleep schedules, or this could mean reminding your child to review the mental skills their performance coach taught them.
  • Accountability to values: Everybody demonstrates a set of values through their behavior, whether we are aware of it or not. What are the values that we want to see in our athletes? Determination, discipline, respect, integrity, sportsmanship, etc. are all common answers unsurprisingly; who wouldn't want their young athlete to develop in to a determined, hard-working, adult with respect for those around them? Unfortunately, we often assume the athletic experience will take care of developing these values without any real intention or effort on the Homefront. Instilling positive values is important for athletic performance because it can provide purpose to the athlete, motivation, and become a guide for navigating tough decisions that can distract us from our goals.
In one of my favorite books, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor tells a story that I think demonstrates the importance of value-driven decision making. The story is about Southwest Airlines; many of us are familiar with this airline, and I know many people who fly solely with Southwest for one specific reason. Achor describes that when Southwest Airlines was started, their number one value was being low-cost. No matter what decisions they made for their company, they wanted low-costs to be the goal in mind. Southwest Airlines allows you to re-schedule flights at no cost. Why? Because it aligns with their value. Southwest Airlines does not provide meals on their flights. Why? Because it keeps costs down and aligns with their values. Southwest Airlines does not charge for a carry-on bag. Why? Because it aligns with their values. Southwest put their value at the forefront of all of their decision-making, and because of that they have earned their reputation accordingly.
I challenge parents to reflect on the values they’re hoping their child brings to the playing field. What value is defining the type of athlete you are raising? The decisions your child makes surrounding their sports are only drop in the bucket of all the challenging decisions we face in life. And learning how to use values to guide decision-making at home can help transfer the same ability to the playing field.  Here are a couple quick tips for establishing value-driven behavior in your home:
  • Identify values: Identify 2 or 3 core values that you want to drive the behavior of yourself and your children; not only in sport but in school, work, relationships, etc.
  • Define values: Define what those values mean to you and your family in terms of specific behavior.  For example, if respect is a value that you want your young athlete to abide by maybe you define it through behavior such as arriving on time to practices and following referee calls. Or if discipline is a value you choose, maybe some specific behaviors that reinforce that are following a consistent sleep pattern and finishing school-work before any social events.
  • Commit to values: Structure the “rules” of your household around the values you hope to develop, and when you need to provide consequences for poor behavior use it as an opportunity to start a conversation about the values we display. Furthermore, commit to these values not only at home and in sport but also in school, at work, with their friends, etc. I even encourage families to place a visual reminder of their values somewhere in the home; the reminder never hurts.
  • Accountability through feedback: In our last blog post, I talked a little bit about the need for parents to provide the appropriate feedback to their children during training. The same concepts can apply to the home environment; instead of providing feedback that is directed at specific skill development or performance results, provide feedback that is directed at effort and attitude. At home however, I want parents to think about the opportunities to provide this type of feedback that is not sport-related. Maybe your child comes home from school and is disappointed in their performance on a speech; use this as an opportunity to encourage them to work hard and put in the effort to improve for next time. This consistency in the type of feedback you provide your child, across life’s domains and not just in sport, will strengthen their ability to transfer that growth-oriented perspective into training and competition.
  • Accountability through modeling: Lastly, keep in mind that you are most likely the most influential adult in your child’s life. The way that you behave- the way you treat people, the way you take care of your body, the way you speak- is modeled to your child consistently. If you are going to expect your child to act a certain way, you need to be actively looking for ways to model that behavior for your child. And just as importantly, reflect on any behaviors you engage in that undermine that desired behavior. If you expect your young athlete to treat their coaches and referees with respect, yelling at the customer service representative over the phone will model the opposite. If you want your young athlete to have discipline, completing their homework for them so they have more time for sport practice will model the opposite. Take an honest look at the way you model behavior for your children and make any adjustments accordingly.
            As I stated before parents have so many unique opportunities to reinforce and strengthen the training that their children are already receiving, and to be unintentional in capitalizing on those opportunities is a misstep in my opinion. It’s this kind of dedication to the holistic development of a young athlete that will set them up for success not only in their competitive ambitions, but also in any other goal-drive pursuit life presents them.