Two recent events have driven home to me the importance of “coaching for character.” One was joyful, one painful, but both were powerful, especially for the parents in attendance.
The first event occurred when a few of us parents recently found ourselves at an impromptu gathering of some of our daughters who grew up playing rec soccer together. For nine years, from kindergarten to eighth grade, the Rapids were a raggedy crew of pigtailed athletes. A couple of weeks ago, we parents noticed that our little girls, now seniors in high school, have grown into strong, confident young women.
|The Rapids, the early years.||And as high school seniors...|
How did that happen? In the early years, the snacks were all that mattered. As the girls moved toward middle school, they started keeping score. Eventually, the Rapids learned to pass and dribble and throw and hustle. They learned to win and lose with grace and humility. They nursed hurt limbs and hurt feelings, and they became a team. In short, they developed character—as human beings as well as athletes.
The Rapids players knew that they had created not an athletic juggernaut, but a complex and rugged web of friendship, toughness, and joy. The parents beamed with pride as we watched our daughters grow from giggling small fry to strong, fierce competitors who cared about the game, and one another. Still, we knew that our team was not unique. There are millions of boys and girls chasing a ball all across America, having fun, and learning what it means to be a person of character and courage.
The Rapids reminded me that the old verities are still true. Love and effort and joy and friendship are really all that matter. Sacrificing for a team, for something bigger than oneself, is still virtuous (even if it means playing goalie!). And the girls learned that sometimes even dads can get choked up, as I did when I told my team at the end of 8th grade that coaching them was one of the greatest privileges of my life.
The Rapids who gathered last week attend four different high schools, and will move on to half a dozen colleges. But the steel that they forged in the crucible of rec soccer will forever make them one team, and will bind them as friends.
An even more poignant example of the ways that sports can shape character also occurred in the past fortnight. A Jesuit dad who had battled cancer heroically finally succumbed a couple of weeks ago. His oldest son Connor, a member of the JHS class of 2012, was at home, but a number of his pals had already left for college.
At the funeral, I was proud to see a whole lot of JHS students and parents in attendance. But I was especially moved to witness the way that Connor’s former teammates from his grade school CYO basketball team rallied around him. Two of them drove from college in Montana to be there for the funeral, and the others didn’t think twice—they had to have Connor’s back, because they were teammates.
It did not seem to matter whether these young men had been in touch with Connor recently or not. It did not matter that they had graduated from Jesuit and Central Catholic and Lake Oswego. The bond they had, the lessons they had learned about loyalty and about what really matters (not wins and losses, but friendship and fidelity), led them instinctively to their friend’s side when he needed them most. That is what one might call character, and it can be shaped powerfully by the emotional cauldron that is competitive athletics.
As I hope you know, “Coaching for Character” is the topic of the conference we are co-hosting with Central Catholic and UP at Jesuit on Saturday, October 4. All parents are invited, whether you are or ever were the coach of a team. If you are a parent, you are a coach, guiding your child(ren) through the treacherous terrain of adolescence.
So, come learn from folks who do this for a living how to help your student grow into people of competence, conscience, and compassion. You can register at www.jesuitportland.org/manresa.
on Thursday September 25