Sports are a fantastic venue for learning some much needed character and confidence. Over the years, through swimming and triathlons, our family has been able to work through some serious lessons.
There was the time we took the children to a big triathlon on the west coast of Florida. Daly Kay was 9, Ryli was 7, and Bliss was 6. The race course was two laps on the bike.
Bike…lap one, my girls are in the lead for their little age groups. Lookin’ GOOD! So exciting…David was right at the transition where bikers were supposed to go in. Every kid only did one lap. As Ryli and Bliss began to follow everyone else in only completing one lap, David corrected them. “No, no girls, you have to do two laps!”
“YEAH, no cheatin’!” yelled another parent whose kid only completed one lap. Refraining from my fleshly tendency to shoot one right back at the parent (a minor miracle), I just yelled louder for Ryli and Bliss, now the ONLY two children left out on the course.
After the race ended, and Ryli and Bliss came in dead last. I told them how proud I was of them for completing the entire race. That was not nearly satisfactory enough for Bliss. She marched her little self right up to the judges stand and made the case that no one actually did two rounds on the course. The officials asked to speak with David…was this true? David and Daly Kay both said it absolutely was. The times reflected that most kids could have only completed one loop on the bike, and so the judges began to ask parents or children to come forward and admit if they had indeed only completed half the bike course. One or two kids came forward. Everyone else sat glued in their seats. Bliss was fuming.
We walked away that day without any trophies, but we sure learned a lot about character and competition. That year when we watched pros in the Ironman or Tour de France who chose to cheat, my girls could identify with the rightful winner who had lost the opportunity to stand on the podium because someone else had chosen to cheat. They could readily learn from the character of such people as through time these pros would succumb to the results of their character choices lived out in real life…many times the cheating in races spilled over into other areas, such as their marriages or their money handling. “Two Loops” became a common understanding in our family…it came to represent the person who would willingly cheat when no one was looking. From sports my children understood that eventually, it will catch up to you.
Was there reason to be angry or disappointed? Sure. This race cost us gas to get there (no small fee with our big van), hotel accommodations, food for the meals all weekend, and of course race application entry fees. It was not chump change. But in comparison, it was a cheap lesson, and one that stuck well! I am grateful for the opportunity to teach my children such lessons when things “don’t go their way,” or “life isn’t fair.” Because, life ISN’T fair. Learning that lesson through an expensive weekend race is far better than learning it through marrying the wrong person, or being cheated out of savings by an employee who displays the same lack of character….but without this lesson as a child you were blinded.
The object point of my post is that when a competition goes wrong, there is often far more to be learned character-wise than on the days when everything goes right. I wasn’t angry at those in charge of the race– who could’ve guessed the competition would have turned out like that? I didn’t cause a big stink or fight with the other parents…their choices will be evidence against them enough if they have not since wizened up and taught their children better. But I sure as heck took the opportunity, yes, the OPPORTUNITY to teach my children better, to train them up in wisdom THROUGH the circumstance. We even gave them the chance to advocate for themselves to those in authority over them (race officials), while learning to walk away from an unfortunate turn of events knowing their own consciences were clear.
But to be honest, my kids have made mistakes before too…like the time one child didn’t pay attention to the pre-race rules and had to go to the race official after the race and admit…she only did one loop on a two loop bike course! You would think after having been through the same situation a few years earlier, she would pay closer attention. But, once she realized her error, she went to make it right (unfortunately, there were dozens of others who were not so honest)! Or the time one of my little boys did one part of a two part four miler running race! As my oldest daughter rounded the finish line, imagine her surprise to see her six year old little brother, standing there complete with medal and pie (it was the Thanksgiving “Run For The Pies”). “Hey Dale!” He said with a smile,”Good job!” She promptly took him to the officials who had a good laugh and let him keep the pie. The important thing? Making them own the mistake and let them make it right. As I have often said…it’s not “if” your kids will mess up…but “when” they do – how you handle it is what counts.
Don’t think, as a parent, it is your duty to “fix” every wrong for your child. Sometimes, your only obligation is to TEACH them through it. Show them “a more excellent way,” (Corinthians)…Sports and competition can be an outstanding opportunity many times to do just that.