January 26, 2018

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Coaching gives new perspective on parenting

Sean GallagherI’ve been a sports fan most of my life. But I’ve never been much of an athlete, learning before I got to high school that my talents lied more in music and academics than on the court.

So I had more than a few misgivings when I volunteered last fall to serve as an assistant basketball coach for my 10-year-old son Victor’s basketball team made up of fourth- and fifth-graders.

It is a part of a league organized by the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). I told the head coach that I would be the chief cheerleader for the team because while I lacked a lot in basketball know-how, I was filled with enthusiasm for the boys on the team.

Victor and his friends have grown in their basketball skills and in how to work together as a team. I, on the other hand, have gained a new perspective on parenting through my coaching experience.

The team’s head coach and I work hard in our practices to help the boys learn how to play basketball. We give instructions, pointers and encouragement all the time through the many drills we have the boys do.

But I discovered that once the ball is tipped in a game, the role of us coaches fades—literally—to the sidelines. We can call out instructions to the boys from the bench, and remind them of important aspects of the game during timeouts. But when play is happening, the coaches have to trust the boys to carry out what we’ve tried to teach them. They have to do it on their own with only minimal input from us adults.

It’s similar with parenting. That might seem obvious for empty-nester parents whose children are grown and living on their own. But it even applies to moms and dads with young children at home.

We give them good moral principles and try to model those principles in our behavior, but we have to let our children learn on their own how to live them out in their relationships with their siblings, other relatives, fellow students and even perfect strangers.

Encouraging words and corrections when necessary are important, but hovering over them too much hinders them making those principles their own.

Now, as a coach I often see mistakes on the court made clearly before my eyes. When that happens, all I can do is watch, encourage the players and remind them in a few short words of what they’re supposed to do. But I find that such mistakes on the court don’t bother me.

For one, I don’t have time to dwell on miscues because the game quickly goes on, and the team has to do better on the next play. And second, I have confidence that the boys will do better in the future.

This experience has given me consolation in my life as a parent. As the father of five boys ages 15 down to 4, life comes at me pretty fast. Mistakes are made in our family—especially by me—at a pretty fast pace.

Hopefully, my experience as a coach will help me to take misbehavior in stride, knowing that God in his providence gives us second chances.

When he ascended to heaven, Jesus trusted his Apostles, as imperfect as they were, to lead his followers in his place. And he sent the Holy Spirit to strengthen them in their leadership. We can trust God to give our children the same Spirit to help them live according to his will.

With the Spirit guiding them and with us having formed them as we can with the help of God’s grace, we’ll take great joy when we see them experience victories in this life and in the next. †

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