Parenting athletes is no easy task–when your kid is the one on the field throwing interceptions or ‘blowing up’ during a race, “It draws out every unresolved issue you’ve got!” my hubby, Jon, often jokes. He still loves to tell the story of the time “My wife ran across the fifty-yard line of a KCFC flag football game to ‘Calm me down when my football team was not executing plays properly . . . She looked me in the eye and said: ‘They are only eight.”
And at eight, those boys cared more about playing tag and chasing butterflies than learning the difference between a post and a slant.
As parents of athletes, Jon and I have learned that in order to help our kids through the highs and lows of competition, their identity can’t be tied to their performance, and neither can ours.
If our identity is attached to our kids, then in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, we communicate to them that it is their responsibility to perform well in order to make us feel and look good. No kid can bear the weight of that kind of burden. They will eventually be crushed beneath the pressure or rebel and quit.
Three years ago, our middle boy, Jo, was a distance runner. He is now a 250 pound, 6’1’’ lineman. But three years ago, all we saw was a kid struggling to run, even to the point of a humiliating fall during a 3000-meter race where he got beat by two kids he’d beaten for years. As parents, if our identity was tied to his performance, we might say things like this: “You aren’t trying hard enough! What’s wrong with you?” And on the inside, we might be thinking either “What will others think?” or “How did I fail?!” When the truth of the matter is—your kid, like every other human on the planet—will struggle.
Now our Jo looks back on those years when his body was transforming from distance runner to lineman and laughs. He tells the story of how during his last season of Cross Country he drank a protein shake, ate a few bars, and tried to muster every scrap of energy “To keep up with the kid in the ponytail and purple jersey. I thought ‘At least I can keep up to him. . . I’ve beaten him every year for the last three years!’ And then the kid in the ponytail toasted me!”
At the time of his CC ‘toasting’, we had no idea God was transforming Jo into the biggest, strongest lineman on his football team. As a highschool freshman, he’s throwing running backs backwards, sacking the quarterback, and breaking up plays like a boss. He also misses tackles, misreads plays, and makes mistakes as he learns and grows. But what he has now is perspective—God was doing something in those years of struggle, transforming not only his body, but also his heart. Jo was learning that his worth and identity can never be tied to performance, but to the truth that he is loved and seen by God, no matter the outcome.
With Christ as his foundation, Jo can walk off a field after a loss and hold his head high because he knows: “You, oh Lord, are the one who lifts my head high” (Psalm 3:3).
As parents, when we place our confidence in God’s promise to ‘work all things together for good,’ we can view our kids’ mistakes, losses, and racing ‘blow ups’ as simply part of the process of learning to lean on Christ through the mountains and valleys of this life.