Friday, April 25, 2014

"You listen to kids too much"

"You listen to kids too much."

I've had this said to me more than once. It's almost always been by fellow educators or parents of the kids I have taught or coached. I've always thought it was the strangest criticism possible.

My response is always the same. "If I don't listen to them, who will?"

It's a response I learned from my mother. Her mother, who was hell-on-wheels and far from being mother of the year, once told her she listened to her children too much.

To be fair, my mother believed in firm discipline, and her will was absolute iron. She demanded and commanded respect. Yet, she knew kids need to be heard and listened to and respected.

She knew kids also need to be able to communicate with people who have their best interests at heart. These are people who will listen to them and tell them what the truth is.

If that was true years ago, when nuclear families were common, and supposed morality was supposedly better, what does it mean now?

I'm sorry to burst everyone's bubbles, but very few families are now run on strict discipline. Relationships between parents and children are just different somehow these days in most instances. Kids don't know how to respond to authoritarian tactics. If parents and grandparents aren't using such methods, why would anyone think schools, teachers, and coaches are going to succeed in implementing "when I say jump, you ask how high." 

Here's the good news: kids respond well to clear boundaries and also to the concept of mutual respect. You know why it works? Because children are people, too. They get you're in charge as the adult, but you still have to show them you deserve their respect. 

If you show children and young adults you care about them, that you want the best for them, that you respect them as people, they will generally reciprocate. I can't imagine working with young people and not actually valuing them, but there are many who don't, unfortunately.

Football coaches, in particular, walk a fine line. Most coaches came up in an era when every youth coach thought he had to imitate Bear Bryant or Tom Landry in the length and ferocity of practices. Young people of today and their parents, for that matter, are just not going to put up with long, drawn-out, abusive practices. There are too many other things families can be doing, and mommas and daddies are less likely to support your drill sergeant tendencies.

So, am I telling you to have “soft” practices? Of course not. I am encouraging you, however, to think very carefully about every minute of your practices and what it is you are trying to accomplish. 

I hope your goal, in every practice and in every game, is to get better. Complacency kills success in sports and, for that matter, in other phases of life. If you cannot tell you are improving every time your team gets together, you are doing something wrong. It’s that simple. 

"The football coach has a captive audience and can teach these lessons because the communication lines between himself and his players are more wide open than between kids and parents." -Paul Bryant


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