Rooting for the Ultimate Winning Team (and no, it is not the f*&#$g Patriots)

It is my favorite time of the year! We are knee deep in sports season in our house. But  unfortunately I can’t say it is all good news. My Steelers SUCK, the Nats couldn’t win enough games down the stretch to garner a playoff birth, and the Capitals are off to a miserable start. My son’s baseball team has lost more games than they have won. My daughter’s diving team hasn’t even been able to get it together to start training for the season (governmental bureaucracy is GREAT). And one of my fantasy football teams is so bad I think I might need to apologize to everyone for joining the league.

Now before you call the suicide prevention hotline, I will tell you it isn’t all bad. My adopted NFL team, the Miami Dolphins, is doing better than any pundit predicted (though for the record Richard called this in August). My son had a kick-ass game last night. And in my neighborhood FF league I am currently undefeated!

But as I was thinking about my love of all things sports, a question my daughter asked recently came to mind. You see, I wrote this on their bathroom mirror a few weeks ago:

Bathroom Mirror

Shortly after I wrote that my daughter asked, “Mommy, why did you write that in our bathroom?”

And my answer was quick and easy because to me the reason was obvious: I did it because I love you and we are a team all together and I want you to succeed and win in life.

But as I thought about it I realized that my applying the framework of sports to my family was about more than just a surface “Go Fight Win” cheer. It is about teaching our children the values that we have identified (at our 48 Hour Relationship Retreat…sorry, couldn’t help putting in a plug here) – the same ones that we hope they will learn when we encourage them to play sports, only within the safe, supportive, non-threatening confines of our family unit.

“So,” I hope you are asking, “What do you think your kids can learn from your cockamamie application of the team sports approach to your family household?”

So glad you asked! Here are a few of the lessons I hope they learn (DISLAIMER: I wish I applied all of these things all of the time…in reality I do some of them some of the time, and most of them occasionally, and all of them sporadically):

– Celebrate your victories. Sure, easy to do when there is a tough game win, or playoff birth, or even better yet a Super Bowl championship. So what is the family equivalent? Maybe it is the playroom that everyone worked to clean up, the test that you studied really hard for that you got a B on (really – sometimes a B is a huge victory), or the fact that you made it through an evening without getting into a fight with your sibling. There are no trophies for family unity or room cleanliness. But I read somewhere that “we value what we celebrate,” and I think that is true – so we need to celebrate what we want our kids to value. Make up a World Series of Teeth Brushing or a Superbowl of Friendship or whatever silly crap works in your house and celebrate when you make it to the Big Dance.

– Everyone is valued for their contribution. Sure, it is easy to overlook the long snapper because they aren’t the star and they aren’t on the field all that often, but just ask the Redskins what happened this weekend when Nick Sundberg, their starting long snapper, went down with a torn meniscus (hint: it wasn’t good). Sometimes we end up with one child/family member who thinks they are THE STAR and they don’t value their sibling as much as they should. Each person has a role to play in my household, and every role is important. We wouldn’t be complete if my son weren’t his typical Type A self and reminding us all of the rules, nor would we be the same if our daughter weren’t dancing around bringing lightness and joy to the whole room. We all have a purpose and all need to be appreciated for what we contribute to the overall success of the family.

– Set your goals and work hard to get there. This is easy to say, but oh so hard to for kids to embrace. Right?!? They don’t want to work hard, and they don’t have any perspective (heck, for probably ½ of their lives they have been babies or toddlers). But that is where I come in. Where we can help them set goals and plans to get there and monitor their progress and show them how their hard work is paying off. Start small, and build up. But be careful not to blow smoke up their a@@. Kids can spot a faker a mile away. So you have to pick goals that they actually do have to work hard to reach. And you probably have to be the bad guy and make them do the hard work (reference the early statement about how kids don’t actually like to work). But if you are intentional about it and help them monitor their progress and eventual success you will have taught them an amazing lesson that they will be able to use all of their lives.

– When one person on the team screws up you don’t put them down, you pick them up. “You broke the _________”, “You spilled the ______”, “We can’t go to the movie because your room wasn’t clean!” NO, NO, NO!!!!!!! We are a team. When Payton Manning throws an interception (ok, bad example because he has only thrown 2 interceptions this year) his teammates don’t throw rotten tomatoes at him. His defense goes out there and does their best to get the ball back. And his offense works extra hard when they are on the field to help him recover and be his best. To help our children realize that it is better to be positive than negative is a huge gift that will have ripple effects all of their lives.

– Heart is as important as talent. And if you don’t have talent, you need a TON of heart (and by heart I mean desire to meet your goal and commitment to do what it takes to get there). Sure, we all have heard the stories about the kid who comes out of the womb throwing a 95 mph fast ball. But what interests me more, and the stories I tell my kids, are about the athletes that weren’t supposed to make it. About Diana Nyad who at the age of 64 swam from Cuba to Florida. Or Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who survived a shark attack. These are the people I want to be their role models. The people who worked hard to get what they wanted. And the best way I know of doing that is to model it for them. To let them know what my personal goals are, to watch me work hard to achieve them, and then to celebrate when I do reach the goals that I have set. So that they can see that big accomplishments take hard work, but it is possible.

– You might be down, but don’t count yourself out. Yep, I was watching when Tom Brady threw the last second touch-down pass to beat the New Orleans Saints last weekend. And as much as I hate to give any attention to one of my least favorite athletes, I have to say this – that guy never gives up. There will be plenty of times in life when the people around you don’t believe in you or don’t think you can do something. Or when you have been pushed down and kicked around. But learning to have the reserve to believe in yourself will see you through those times and lead you to your own personal victory. But the question is, how do you teach that to your kids? Well, I let my kids see when I fail and when I have set-backs and when I get back up and go forward. It is hard. Because as parents we want to be strong and brave and right (oh yeah, mostly I want to be right). But sometimes I have to say “I was wrong,” or “that sucked,” or “this hurts.” And I have to let my kids see that raw side of life in order for them to see me being strong and overcoming that obstacle. And yes, bad shit happens, but that doesn’t mean we quit…it just means we get back to it and attack it from a different angle.

And to me these “sports” lessons apply to all the areas of our lives. To being a good friend/spouse/parent/sibling. To excelling at school. To worshipping our God. And even to playing a sport.

So be on notice. We are TEAM BARNEY. And we kick ass and we take names. We set goals and we work hard to reach them. We value each “player” for what they bring to our team. We aren’t out when we are down. And we even huddle up and have a family cheer now & then. (Think I’m kidding? Check it out: Team Barney Cheer and yes, we are dorky like this!)