Happy December. I feel like this time of year is frenzied for everyone as we race towards the end of the year. This December for me has been particularly frenzied because my son is in the midst of the college application process, and while he thankfully is on top of it all, it has certainly brought up a good deal of emotions and reflection about his journey to this point and what might lie ahead.
Being an educator, I often look at experiences with an educator’s eye, wondering how I can relate them to a larger idea or philosophy. Given that I’m spending my days with students just beginning their educational journey, I have found it so interesting to be living with someone who is about to enter adulthood and to see the culmination of the lessons he learned over the years. This fall, as I followed my son’s soccer season, I realized that his experience with soccer over the years holds so many nuggets of lessons both he and I have learned. And his final season as a senior is an apt culmination of his preschool-12th grade educational journey.
Reflecting upon this experience, I see three clear lessons I have learned as a parent. First, we need to encourage our kids to do what they love. And, more importantly, to do things they are curious and want to learn more about, not just things they are good at. My son went through some rough times with soccer. From the start, he was literally the youngest you could possibly be on his team (his birthday was the day before the cutoff). If you’ve read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you know that being on the young end of a team often puts kids at a big disadvantage when it comes to sports. There were several times over the years that he considered quitting – one year he rarely got played, one year he didn’t make the more competitive team, one year, he didn’t make the team at all. In high school, we encouraged him to consider doing speech and debate instead (the time commitment of each didn’t allow him to do both), thinking he hadn’t seen much payoff in soccer after all these years. Thank goodness he didn’t listen to us and instead stuck with the sport that he loved. Rather than being discouraged by his experiences, he was motivated to improve, and finally, all of that time practicing began to really pay off as he developed into a solid defensive player. He was also a student of the game, spending time learning about different formations and plays and working with his team to develop together.
This leads to the second lesson I learned. Some traits in our kids that we may find frustrating can actually be incredibly positive. When my son was young, we had our fair share of battles, and he definitely knew how to push my buttons. I remember reading the book Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, and being heartened to understand that while his obstinacy may have driven me crazy, it actually was an indication of his independence and strong spirit, qualities that we want to develop in our kids. I learned which battles to fight and which were ultimately unimportant (hence several photos of him running around New York City in pajamas!). And as he grew, I saw how this spirit helped guide him – to think critically, to ask questions, and to push himself and those around him. Because of this spirit, his coaches asked him to be a captain in his senior year and to use this spirit for good.
This final season was exciting, seeing how this team of boys, many of whom had played together since seventh and eighth grade, came together to improve and, ultimately, excel. They won their league and played their way to the state finals. The game was tight – tied 1-1 at the half. For the second half, the score stayed the same, and with 30 seconds to go, the other team’s goalie made a long punt, and their forward headed the ball into our goal. This leads to the final lesson that is something I say all the time but was still a hard pill to swallow at that moment: we learn more when we lose than when we win. As parents, we care so deeply about our kids, and we don’t like seeing them disappointed. Unfortunately, this often leads to parents who step in at the slightest difficulty, trying to smooth over a situation or remove obstacles that might be in our kids’ way. But when we do this, we are indirectly telling our kids that we don’t think they are capable. Hard as it is, we need to let them fail so they can learn from their mistakes and develop resilience. If you’d like to explore this topic further, I recommend reading The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey.
I think one of the reasons sports are great for our kids is that they inherently teach so many of these important life lessons in somewhat low-stakes environments. At Compositive Primary, we strive to teach these lessons as well. At the core of our curriculum are our inquiry arcs that allow our students to explore and pursue what they are most curious about, diving deep and sticking with topics. Our teachers encourage independent and divergent thinking, allowing each student to have their own unique educational journey. And, finally, we provide multiple opportunities for our students to try, fail, and try again. We want them to embrace struggle and view losses as opportunities for growth.
I feel fortunate that my son was able to learn these lessons in many places, but especially in soccer. When I look back over the last fifteen years of soccer, I am sad that this journey has come to an end, but I am incredibly grateful for all that my son and I have learned about the game and, more importantly, about ourselves and each other.