World Cup Parenting

With France and Croatia settling the World Cup today, Cameron LeBlanc decided to share his insights into what soccer moms and dads could learn from this year’s competition at fatherly.com. I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis on preparation that Cameron cited again and again. Since everyone practices, what is unique about how the winners practice? They don’t just practice the predictable skills of kicking, passing and scoring; they actually spend time practicing the scenarios that have been the difference between winning and losing in the past.

Unfortunately, parents rarely rely on the lessons they’ve learned from parenting in the past. Losing to your 2-year-old doesn’t really have a lot to teach you about handling your six-year-old four years later. Soccer coaches can point to films and the plays that made the difference. We don’t usually watch our home movies with parenting skills in mind.

There are still lessons to be learned if we focus on the right issues. Cameron cited England’s Coach Southgate who experienced Britain’s 1996 loss of a shootout and changed practice to specifically focus on shootouts at the end of practice, simulating the tired legs that accompany most real-time situations. After losing three World Cup matches to shootouts, Britain was ready for something to change the outcome.

Our children are good at getting the best of us from time to time. We walk right into a situation where our superior age and skills should be the winning factor but find ourselves ill-prepared to match a toddler’s wit. Instead of handling their misbehavior with the skills we have learned, we allow the timing of the face-off to change the outcome—simply because we haven’t bothered to practice with tired legs. Maybe planning a good enforceable statement for those moments when we will be too tired to come up with one could prevent a disappointing interaction before it develops. At least our children are likely to be predictable enough to require the statement we planned even if it occurs after a loss or two.

Another of Cameron’s observations had to do with scoring. Spain appeared to own Russia, passing successfully at more than three times the rate of Russia. It would seem that possessing the ball for three quarters of the game would insure victory. But time of possession doesn’t count. Only goals count. Russia won on a shootout despite controlling the ball only one fourth of the game. As Cameron pointed out, coaches need to practice how to score goals at least as much as they practice passing.

Devoting time to winning little battles of the will feeds our desire to have the right thing to say at the right time. But it doesn’t win the hearts of our children. The object of parenting isn’t winning arguments; it’s winning the confidence and trust of our children. Spend at least as much time actually conversing about what is going on, what your child enjoys, things that disappoint your child and playing together as you spend planning a good one-liner to shut down arguing. Both are necessary but one is much more important.

In the high stakes game of parenting, preparation makes all the difference. But just like the pros show us in all sports, you have to practice the skills that actually win games rather than just the basics. You have to remember what’s really important or you waste time on the little skirmishes. Build your relationship with your child. That’s what really matters. Prepare for real life situations instead of relying on a generic one-liner. You know your child will test you at the dinner table and at bed time. Be ready for what will surely come but turn the tables by making these testy times fun times instead.

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