It was my very first year coaching baseball (actually, tee ball), and we were about halfway done with the season when an irate mom asked to speak to me after a game. Green with inexperience, I had no idea what she wanted to discuss. Turns out, her son, one of the older players on the team, did not deserve to play the outfield. He had done his time the year before, and it was his turn to play the infield positions. She believed I was treating him unfairly and did not want to hear my explanation about how some kids in our league hit the ball very hard (it was a very competitive tee ball league) and that her son could not catch and did not pay attention. She only wanted one thing: for her son to get to do what he wanted.
That was the first of many such conversations I’ve had with parents over the years. Towards the end, I adopted a rule I stole from my friend and mentor, David Prince, and would begin each season by sharing it at a parent meeting: “The success of our team is built on trust. As a parent, the coaches are asking you to trust us with all decisions related to putting players in the best position for our team’s success. Therefore, we will not discuss positioning or playing time with parents. If a player wants to know how to improve in working toward a personal goal, he needs to initiate that conversation with the coaches.”
Coaches certainly make mistakes, and I’ve made my share of them. But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a coach’s mistakes match the level of parental vitriol that comes back in return. Coaches generally aren’t conspiring to crush the dreams of your child. Contrary to the perceptions of some, I’ve never heard a coach tell me, “I’ve got this player with real Major League talent, but I’m going to sit him on the bench just because I don’t want to see him succeed.”
With that said, I’m also a parent, and I’ve been a parent on teams coached by others. I know all too well that helpless feeling when you see your child struggle to reach goals and yet fail. I know what it’s like to think he’s being passed over in favor of players who aren’t working as hard and aren’t performing as well. I’ve had to bite my tongue a time or two. Last time my wife and I found ourselves in such a situation, we made two commitments.
First, we would not discuss our true feelings in front of our son. We knew if he sensed our displeasure with his coach, it could ruin his respect for him. The coach had a very tough job to do, and we knew that our disagreement, if voiced, had the ability to poison our son’s attitude and impact his team negatively.
Second, we decided to help our son focus only on things he could control. Whenever he voiced frustration over lack of opportunity, we would respond, “Have you been working as hard as you can on that part of your game?” “What did you do the last time you were given the opportunity?” “When’s the last time you asked your coach what you needed to do to improve in order to be considered for that spot?”
One of the greatest struggles of parenthood is watching our children deal with disappointment and failure. So often, we want to jump in and shield them or micromanage their circumstances to get them out of it. Our natural inclination is to coddle while actively working behind the scenes to manipulate the world so that all their dreams come true.
But what if this approach is the hindrance to your child’s ultimate success? What if worthy goals are only fulfilled through adversity and failure and learning to get back up? What if true maturity requires suffering?
It just so happens that Jesus dealt with this same problem. Believe it or not, parental overinvolvement appears to be ancient. In Matthew 28:20-28, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a request: “Can my boys sit in the seats of greatest honor beside you in your kingdom?” This was an ancient way of asking, “Can Billy play shortstop?”
How did Jesus respond? He reminded her that the path to true greatness doesn’t come via grasping for glory: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The pathway forward, for Christ’s people, comes only through suffering and sacrificial love.
Character always trumps temporal reward. We’re playing the long game. We don’t want temporarily appeased teenagers; we want eternally satisfied disciples of Christ. As hard as it is to accept, our children need to struggle with disappointment if they are ever going to conclude that Christ truly satisfies. Parents, don’t stand in the way of that life-altering realization.