None of us are perfect parents. The best we can hope for is to be a continually improving parent. It's about effort, right? We do the best we can. We make mistakes. We count on the fact that our kids are resilient enough to overcome our shortfalls, and we try again tomorrow.
I don't think there is a parent on the planet who didn't wish there was something they could add to their toolbox that would give them a leg up on parenting. In this episode, we'll talk about a tool that is within your reach. Let's talk about it.
The Development Window
Did you know that our role as parents evolve as our kids grow older? Sure you did! But how are kids different when they parallel play? At what age do we need to start letting go? How hard can we push them at 12-years old? How about at 15-years-old? When does your child's cranium get strong enough to head a ball? What psycho-social issues will they be wrestling with in their Junior year and how do you communicate with kids every year from the time they're 3 until they are 18?
Fifteen years in a child's life from 3-yrs-old to 18-yrs-old is commonly referred to as "the development window" when it comes to youth sports. It may be the time in our kids lives when we, as parents, have the greatest impact on our kids. What they learn and how they learn it during these years points them in hopefully a healthy direction. What they learn during these critical years will become a foundation on which they build the rest of their adult lives.
As critical as these years are for our kids, they are also the years that we, as parents, learn to be parents. I was the oldest child in my family. My mother gave birth to me when she was 20 years old. The differences in her parenting style from when I was born until when my sister was born 7 years later is remarkable. As parents, we often cut our teeth on our first born kids and figure out the parenting thing - at least to some degree - by the time our youngest leaves home. As parents, we're developing alongside our kids.
A Parenting Head Start
We're made into parents through very little effort or training. There is no license we need, or even a book to read that bestows on us the title of parent. Wisdom is earned through a series of mistakes, trial and error. By the time we figure it out, our kids are out of the house.
What if there was a series of courses that would teach you how to communicate better with kids? To keep them moving when they're bored. To manage the trials of each age group physically, mentally, and psychosocially?
What if there was a practice area where you could refine the skills you were taught in class? What if you had a bunch of kids in the same age group as your own kids that you could work with to refine your skills.
Youth coaching education is not limited to understanding the game of soccer. In fact, the majority of content that gets taught as the fundamental levels is about stuff you can use at home, on the field, or in the office. Communication, conflict resolution, what's appropriate at each age physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychosocially. It's about injury prevention, appropriate levels of activity, and about injury management. Who among the parent population wouldn't benefit from a little injury prevention and management?
Remarkably, earning my coaching credentials have had a tremendous positive impact on my ability to parent. I've learned to anticipate and respond to my kids needs. I've been okay with letting go. I've been able to set boundaries, be clear about those boundaries, and give my kids the freedom (and responsibility) to become the best version of themselves.
Right in your back yard, you may have a club that you can volunteer for. If you're lucky, they have a budget to help pay for your coaching education. Don't sleep on the opportunity while you have it. It really can be the head start you never knew you needed.
Coaching in the Workplace
Labels are often not very useful. "Youth coaching" makes it seem like it's limited to kids. The fact is, that coaching in all forms is about helping other humans reach their full potential. Sure, kids have their own special set of issues that we benefit from learning, but influencing human behavior isn't limited to a soccer pitch. Your ability to coach others in the workplace can be improved by learning how to coach too!
Asking leading questions... helping people to arrive at their own conclusions... holding yourself as an example to be followed... conflict resolution... these skills are the very same skills I was taught through Dale Carnegie and other leadership courses. Over and over again, companies I worked for sent me through leadership courses. I read about leadership on my own time. I practiced every day in every way I could. I had mentors. I had blind spots. I reflected on what worked and what didn't. I was coaching!
Taking Advantage of the Opportunity Now
If you think taking on a coaching role in a local club is a distraction from the things you need to be focusing on at work or with your family at home, I encourage you to consider coaching in the frame I've laid out here today. Becoming a coach not only adds tools to your parenting and work life toolboxes, but it gets you off the couch and gives you something stimulating to enjoy. Life is more when we improve ourselves and do more.
The sooner you get involved, the more value you will get from the experience. It also tends to be better for you. In the case of my club, my Director for Academy and I craft the session plans and an overall coach's training plan for the season well in advance. The demand on new parent volunteers is fairly small. They need to review the material we send out in advance. They need to be at the field 15-20 minutes early to help with setup and go over the plan of the day. And they need to make a commitment during the training sessions and/or games to help out. It's pretty much a done-for-you program. You don't have to know anything about soccer. The training sessions have age appropriate activities built right in. All you need to do as a new parent volunteer is basically be in a place you're already going to be and have a little more fun than the rest of the sidelines. Licensed coaches supervise everything and help out along the way while you learn on the job.
As you move up in age, squads and teams become more independent. This puts slightly higher demand on individual coaches, but again, in the case of my club, we've prepared session plans for every week during the season. If you can execute the session plan we give you, you can do the job.
You're Being the Change...
By stepping up into a volunteer coaching role, you're not only giving yourself parenting tools, giving yourself tools you can use in the office, but you're making it possible to open up the game to more kids in the community. Volunteerism is a primary contributor to lower fees. The minute we add a paid coach, fees jump out of range for many kids.
You're also setting an example for the kids who see you, for adults who see what you're doing, and for our community at large. You're making a statement that community matters and that we should come together to help support our kids. Humans have been raising kids as communities for a long time. It's a good model that not only works by providing affordable activities, but it brings us together around something that matters and helps keep our community fit.