Sports

A Change in Perspective

fragile We've had a rough start to summer around here. My older daughter spent the first week of June in the hospital with meningitis. It was a long, scary week that fortunately for us ended with a healthy kid.

But I discovered during the past two weeks that there's nothing like a sudden crisis to put everything in perspective. Before my daughter went into the hospital, her biggest concern was the fact that her coach was moving her down a team in soccer. That news rocked her world. She was sad, frustrated, and angry. Many, many tears were shed.

I'm not denying that it was a big deal to my 14-year-old. Soccer is her world. But two days later, after a trip to the doctor for antibiotics to treat a persistent sinus infection turned into an ER visit where we sat and waited for the results of a lumbar puncture to see if she had meningitis, she and I both got our perspectives shifted. We went from worried about a game to worried about her long-term health.

In the past two weeks, my daughter has learned that while God definitely gifted her with some soccer skills, He doesn't want that to be the most important thing in her life. Four days in the hospital moved her focus a bit to be able to see the things that really matter -- God, friends, family, health.

We were all reminded that life is fragile. Things can change in a moment. And while our passions and talents are important, they can't be all-consuming to the point that we lose our perspective on what's important.

Don't get me wrong, my daughter is still driven to play soccer. She still wants to improve and regain her spot on the higher team. But she also knows that not making the team is not the worst thing that can happen. She knows that God has plans for her even when she goes through the tough stuff. She's aware that there are more important things in life than the game she plays.

I wish it hadn't taken four days in the hospital to shift our perspective, but I am thankful for the opportunity to refocus our household's attention on the things that matter most.

What Defines Your Child?

Value If you've read this blog for very long at all, you know we're a sports family. Both girls are heavily involved in sports, and they take up a big chunk of our time and budget.

I love that my girls play sports. I truly believe that being on a team and competing has huge benefits -- especially for girls. But sometimes those sports can cause a whole lot of agony.

My older daughter has had a rough soccer season for a lot of reasons. She's been really frustrated, and there have been a whole bunch of tears. It's become all-consuming for her. How do I get better? How do I communicate effectively with my coach? What if I lose my spot on the team? These are conversations we're having almost daily around here.

And it's not healthy. Soccer had gotten to a point where it had really overrun everything else in my daughter's life. Don't get me wrong, I want my kids to be passionate about what they do. I want them to go hard after what they want. I want them to give anything they do their best effort.

But when something surrounding that thing they're so passionate about goes wrong, I don't want it to consume their lives. I don't want them to be so miserable that it's hard to find a smile at all. I don't want it to be the only thing they think about.

So, the other night my daughter and I were at dinner by ourselves. We had a long talk about where soccer belonged in her life. We talked about how it's important to want to solve the problems she's having, but it's not OK to let it affect every aspect of her life. And then I said to her: "Soccer is something you do. It is not who you are."

Because we had let soccer become something that defined my daughter. Her identity, her self-worth, her entire world was wrapped up in this sport. And that's not OK. Because while she loves to play it and she has some talent for it, it isn't the only thing in her life. We needed to put soccer back in it's appropriate slot in her life -- as something she loves to do. Because nothing she does or doesn't do on the field makes her any less of a person. It doesn't change her priorities or who she is.

When we let the activities our kids do define who they are, their self-worth gets tied to a score or a performance instead of being tied to their intrinsic value as a child of God.

In this world where we're told our kids need to find the thing they love and they need to follow that thing wherever it leads, it's up to us as parents to remind our kids that their worth as a person isn't found in anything that they do. They are loved and cherished simply because they are God's creation. God does not care if they are a soccer star, a straight-A student or a prima ballerina.  He loves them because He made them.

Our kids should absolutely pursue their passions. They should chase their dreams. They should work hard and give it everything they have. But they shouldn't let what they do define them. They shouldn't let the things they are involved in be the measure of their self-worth.

That means sometimes we have to help our kids examine the pressure they are putting on themselves. We have to ask them the hard questions about where they are drawing their identity from. We have to help them keep the things they do in their lives from defining who they are.

Last night, my daughter played her best game of the season. She walked on the field with an entirely different attitude. She looked like she was having fun. She looked confident. But that confidence didn't come from anything she knew she could do on the field. It came from knowing that no criticism could take away her value. It came from understanding that failure on the field wouldn't make her any less important to us or to God.

Sometimes we need to step back and assess the value our kids are placing on their accomplishments and failures. Sometimes they need to be reminded that their identity is not found in what they do but in who God says they are. Because when they know and understand that, everything else will fall into place.

Don’t forget to check out my new book Everyday Truth: Teaching your kids about God during life’s everyday moments. Available in paperback at Amazon.com.

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Game-Day Verses

Game Day Verses My older daughter hurt her ankle playing soccer back in October. When I took her to the doctor, the doctor said "Wow, her foot is really bruised." My daughter answered, "No, that's Sharpie."

You're probably wondering why my daughter's foot was covered in Sharpie. It's because every game day, she writes on it. She chooses a Bible verse and writes it on her foot in Sharpie. It's her game day verse.

In talking with other parents of kids who play sports, I've discovered that it can be hard to keep our kids focused on being a light to the world -- even on the soccer field, the ice rink, or the basketball court. The language and behavior of other kids can make it hard for our kids to want to act the way they know they should because everyone else is acting differently.

My daughter finds that a game-day verse helps keep her heart where it should be. That doesn't mean that she's any less aggressive on the field. It doesn't mean that she tries any less hard. It simply means that it helps her remember that even when she's on the soccer field, she's a still a child of God.

I love the game-day verse idea because it make God's word tangible and useful. I love that my daughter came up with it herself. And I love that it's an important part of her game-day ritual.

I know how hard it is as parents to help our sports-obsessed kids excel at their sports and keep their focus on Jesus. This idea ties the two things together in an easy way.

So, today, I want to share with you some of my daughter's favorite game-day verses. Your child doesn't have to write the verse on his foot. It may be that he simply places it somewhere that he sees it before the game. Whatever works for your child.

These are eight of my daughter's favorite verses:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

Though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:24

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8

To help you out, I've created printable game-day verse cards that you can download and print out yourself. There are five different designs to choose from: soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball and plain. Just click on one of the pictures below to get your printable file and start your own game-day tradition.

baseball  Basketball  Hockey  SoccerPlain

 

Locker Room Courage

Locker room 1 We had tears in the locker room this weekend. My younger daughter played in a hockey tournament in Des Moines. Her team lost the third-place game, and my super competitive daughter was frustrated. She was also tired and irritated about some teasing from her teammates.

As I hugged her and talked her through her frustration, I was struck by the courage she displays every time she steps on the ice. Forget that hockey can be a brutal sport, and you have to be pretty tough to play it. Forget that she willingly steps on a sheet of ice knowing that she will block a shot, take a hit or be tripped by a stick. All of that takes courage. But it's the courage she shows in being herself that leaves me in awe, wishing that I had half as much courage as she shows every day.

You see, girls hockey has taken off in certain pockets of this country. If you live on the East Coast, the West Coast or in the northern Midwest, you can take your pick of girls' hockey teams. But here on the plains of Kansas, we don't have a lot of kids who play hockey at all, much less girls who play. There are a few girls on her team and a handful of girls who play for other hockey organizations in her age group, but there isn't a girls' team for her to play on. There isn't a support system for girls' hockey here.

To play this sport, she has to play mostly with boys. She has to be willing to step on the ice, many times as the only one with a ponytail doing so. She has to be willing to prove that she belongs over and over again. She has to work to fit in when we travel with the boys -- because she's the only girl.

And she does it all mostly with grace and determination. It seems as if she does it almost effortlessly. But then there are the moments in the locker room when the tears roll down her cheeks. There are the moments when she comes home from practice frustrated with something one of the boys said to her or upset about a coach sending her to a lower skill group just so she can be with the other girls. And that's when I realize that to be true to her love of this sport, it takes courage.

It takes courage in great measures to be different. It takes courage to stick it out when the going gets tough, when the boys are more than she can handle and the desire for someone else to just be like you is overwhelming. Honestly, it takes more courage than I think I could muster.

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I know that the lessons she's learned about staying true to who she is and how to muster up the courage to be different are ones that will stay with her through her whole life. Knowing that even when the going gets tough she's willing to be the person God created her to be, makes me confident that the courage she's learned in these childhood years will make her a force to be reckoned with as she gets older.

As her mom, I wish this road were a bit easier for her. I wish that we could offer her more than just hugs in the locker room when it gets to be too much. But I know that God is molding her into the person He needs her to be and these lessons in courage will pay big dividends in the future.

Sometimes, though our kids choose to do things that take courage. When they do, they need our unwavering support. They need us to bolster them. They need us to be there to offer the hugs and the encouragement to keep going.

Through it all, though, I know this: My daughter amazes me every time she chooses to put on her hockey gear and step on the ice. I watch in awe, and I learn something about courage from her every single day.

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Is Your Love Dependent on Your Child's Performance?

parents I made a parenting mistake this weekend. And my daughter called me on it.

We were at my daughter's very early morning, very cold soccer game. She was struggling with it being her first game back after several weeks off for an injury. The field was wet, and the ball was skipping. She went to kick the ball right in front of where I was sitting on the sidelines. She missed. And I yelled her name in a harsh tone of voice.

My daughter was already frustrated because she wasn't playing as well as she wanted to. Her ankle hurt. And her mom expressed frustration with her play.

I try really hard not to be an overbearing sports parent. I try to tell my girls I love watching them play no matter how they play. I try not to overanalyze their games. We try to let sports be just something else that they do -- not the thing that defines their worth.

But on Saturday morning, I got caught up in the game. I got caught up in my daughter's concern about her playing and her frustration with her ankle. I yelled, and she heard me.

When she came off the field, she was in tears. She was upset that her ankle still hurt. She was upset that she hadn't played well. But the thing that made it all worse was that I had yelled at her. "You sounded more mad than my coach was," she said.

That's when I knew I'd blown it. That's when I knew that I'd taken one step back on this parenting journey that is so often a constant dance of two steps forward and one step back.

You see, my job as a parent is to be there. It's to pick my kids up when they fall. It's to let them know that they are loved no matter what. It's to have their backs all the time.

Because when my kids come off the field after a bad game or home from school after a frustrating day, they need to know that I love them not because of how they played or what grade they got on their test but because of who they are. They need to know that there's one place in this world that's safe, at least one person in this world who loves them no matter how they perform.

It's easy to get caught up in our kids' sports or artistic endeavors. It's easy to focus on performance over character. It's easy to crush our kids' spirits because we forget that what they do on the sports field, the dance floor or at school isn't a reflection of their worth.

When we parents become so caught up in our kids' performances that we forget the performance has nothing to do with our child's worth, we diminish who our kids are. When we focus only on performance, we reduce our kids to numbers and deeds. We lose sight of their personality and the plans that God has for them.

Simple words that we utter without thinking can make our kids think that we care more about their performance than we do about them as people, so we have to be careful. We have to think about what we say. We have to let our kids know we care more about them than we care about their performance. Because when we give the impression that we only love them when they perform well, we give our kids the impression that love is conditional. We turn love into something that has to be earned.

And when we do that, we can make our kids questions God's love, too. If our love is conditional when our kids have every right to expect it to be unconditional, then how can they trust that God's love is unconditional?

Our kids should never have to question whether we love them. They should never have to question if God loves them.

Our words have power, and we need to use them well. We need to use them to let our kids know they are loved no matter what. We need to use them to make sure our kids never think their worth is based on their performance. We need to simply be careful and choose our words wisely. Because when we do, we teach our kids the true meaning of unconditional love.

Lessons from a Blue October

Blue October My kids went to bed late last night. And they went to bed sad. Our team lost the World Series by one run.

I don't know how many of you readers are local, but this town that we live in has been on a wild, crazy ride with our hometown Royals for the past month. A city that had forgotten how much it loves baseball finally remembered. A city that for 29 years had suffered through 100-loss seasons and years where the team was so bad they didn't even take a team picture came alive in October with love for their boys in blue.

I could spend this space talking about how our society places too much emphasis on professional sports or how we pay our athletes too much money, but I'd rather not. Instead, I want to talk about the great lesson my girls have learned about finding common ground with other people.

In the midst of a contentious election season when the talk is usually divisive and abrupt, we've experienced a month where everyone in this town has found something in common, a reason to smile, a reason to talk. It didn't matter if you were Republican, Democrat or anything in between. No one cared if you were black, white or purple. If you had a Royals shirt, cap or jacket on, you were gifted with a smile or conversation with perfect strangers.

When the sadness fades and the frustration at leaving the tying run 90-feet from home passes, we'll look back on the past month and realize that for those 30 days, we've all been standing on common ground. We've all simply been neighbors.

And that's what I want my girls to take away from this experience. I want them to remember the October where everyone in this metropolitan city of more than 1 million people was our neighbor. I want them to remember that there's always common ground to be found with other people.

Because I think that's what Jesus meant when He told us to love our neighbors. He meant for us to look around and ignore the trivial things like political party affliation, skin color, what neighborhood you live in, or whether you like Pepsi or Coke. He wants us to love those around us no matter our differences. If we treated each other every day like Kansas Citians have treated each other in the past month, we'd be a whole lot closer to what I think God wants us to look like because we'd look a whole lot more like Him.

So as the sadness of loss fades away and we remember how much fun this blue October has been, I hope my girls will also remember that it's not that hard to love your neighbor. It's not that hard to find common ground. We just have to look for it.

Sometimes We Need to Bench Our Kids

bench My older daughter played in a soccer tournament last weekend and had an experience she hasn't had in a while. In her game on Friday night she spent a good bit of time on the bench.

It's been a long time since my daughter has to ride the pine. She had gotten to the point where she just assumed that she would start and play most of every game. She was taking her playing time for granted.

Five minutes into Friday night's game, she wasn't playing well. She was out of position and looked a little lost. Her coach pulled her out of the game, told her what she was doing wrong and sat her on the bench for most of the rest of the half.

My daughter told me after the game that she understood why she was sitting there, but it made her mad. It made her determined to go out there and get it right in the second half. It made her think about what she was doing wrong and how to fix it. And it made her appreciate the playing time that she usually gets.

My daughter came out in the second half and played much better. She carried over Friday night's lesson to her games on Saturday and Sunday and came to each game determined not to sit on the bench again.

After talking with my daughter about Friday night, I realized that there are times when sitting on the bench in life isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be a learning tool. It can be some much needed time to reflect on the situation. It can be a moment to begin to focus on the things that are important.

Our kids' lives are full. In this world of constant information overflow and activity, sometimes the best thing we can do for our kids is to bench them. When their choices are poor and their reactions are out of hand, it's time to give our kids some time on the bench. It's time to tell them what they're doing wrong and give them some time to figure out how to fix it.

When my kids were younger, I used "time outs" as a way of benching my kids, but as they get older, that particular method of discipline goes by the wayside. However, even older kids can benefit from time away from an escalating situation. They can use time to reflect and problem solve. Whether it's some time in their rooms without electronics or simply in another room by themselves, asking our kids to recognize the problems they're having and work out a solution is still a viable parenting tactic.

Because the end goal of parenting is to teach our kids to solve problems on their own. We want them to be independent and able to tackle the world. To do that we have to teach them how to recognize when their own behavior is creating an issue. We have to teach them where to find the wisdom to solve their problems. We have to teach them how to make a change.

When we "bench" our kids and make sure that they know why they're being "benched" we are helping them to learn to do those things. When we take the time to talk with our kids and let them know which behaviors need to change, when we show them how to ask God for the help they need to change, and when we give them the opportunity to try again, we move them one step closer to being independent. We help them take one more step on the path from dependence on us to dependence on God.

Benching our kids isn't a bad thing. It's a tool we can use to motivate them to make a change.

When Sports Overwhelm

Overwhelm My girls both play sports competitively. It means we spend a lot of time and money for them to play. And that's fine. It's a choice we've made to let our girls follow their passions. But there comes a moment when we have to say enough is enough. We reached that point this summer.

My older daughter wanted to play on two soccer teams this fall, upping her league games from eight to 16. She also wanted to try out for the Olympic Development Program for our state. My younger daughter spent the summer traveling to Minnesota to play hockey on a girls' team. It was not the best experience for her or us. The local hockey program recently told us they're changing the program for the fall and doing away with the minimal travel option they've had in the past. Her options now are to play recreational hockey or to play on a team that double the travel and the cost of last year.

My husband and I have finally decided to say enough is enough. We miss our family. We miss going on vacation to a place that doesn't involve the girls playing games. We miss having weekends at home. We're still willing to support our kids in their sports, but we're no longer willing to simply go along with the crowd. We're no longer willing to have our lives and our marriage consumed by constantly going in different directions.

Don't get me wrong, our girls will still be playing their sports. We'll just be a bit more judicious about the choices we make. Our older daughter is not double rostering this fall or trying out for the Olympic Development Program. Our younger daughter won't be playing on the travel team.

Because, here's the thing: I can't raise my kids and create a family unit if my family is constantly split up going in separate directions. I can't "train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6)" if my kids are never around me. I can't teach my kids about God "when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:7)" if I'm never doing those things with my kids.

It's hard to tell our kids no, especially when everyone they know is doing the things they want to be doing. However, sometimes we have to make the tough decisions that protect our families -- even if it comes at the expense of upsetting our kids.

In our community, it's really easy to get trapped in the idea that our kids will be "behind" if they don't get the right training or spend the right number of hours playing their sport, learning an instrument or doing another activity. It's easy to get caught up trying to "keep up with the Joneses."

But isn't it more important that we teach our kids the things they're going to need to know to live their lives following God? Isn't it more important that we be the ones pouring wisdom and love into them while they're in our care?

The days we have to raise our kids are fleeting, and we need to choose how to use those days well. Sometimes that means pulling back and creating space and time to do that.

Lessons from Soccer Tryouts

confidence It's the absolute worst time of the year. It's soccer tryout week.

In years past, this has been a week filled with anxiety, tears and frustration. This year is better as my daughter already knows where she'll be playing next year, but it's still tough. My daughter comes home from tryout camp every day and asks me whether I thought she played well. She wants to know if she looked at least as good as everyone else on the field. She wants to make sure her coach isn't thinking that he made a mistake in inviting her back next year.

Soccer tryouts are a week of agony for my daughter. They are a week of constantly comparing herself to other people. They are a week of wondering whether she's good enough. They are a week of stress and crankiness.

My daughter plays on a competitive soccer team. I understand the need for tryouts. I understand the need to compare players to each other. I understand the need to choose the best players on the field. It doesn't make me dislike the process any less.

I spend so much of my time as a parent teaching my girls to be themselves. I spend a lot of time talking about how God made them unique and they shouldn't compare themselves to others. I spend day after day reminding my girls that each one of us has special talents and skills. And one week of soccer tryouts can lay waste to all of that parenting.

Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful that my daughter's coach has already let her know she's coming back next year. It takes huge amounts of stress out of the process. But even knowing that, my daughter has spent this week wallowing in insecurity. All the confidence she's built up during the year wobbles during this week.

And aren't we all like that? We can have all the confidence in the world that we're doing the right thing, walking the right path, following God where He's leading -- until we start comparing ourselves to other people. Comparison is a confidence killer. It is the fastest way to undermine our confidence in ourselves and our confidence in God.

Even in a situation like soccer tryouts, our kids need to know that their confidence, their worth doesn't come from how well they perform compared to someone else. They need to know that those things come from their faith in God. They need to know that they can always have confidence that they are "fearfully and wonderfully made." They need to have confidence that God has plans for them, "plans to prosper you and not to fail you."

There are situations in life when comparison is inevitable. But our kids don't have to let those situations undermine God's assurance that we are precious to Him. They don't have to let those comparisons make them feel less than worthy. They don't have to let the stress of being compared to someone else overwhelm them. They simply have to have confidence that God knows what He's doing.

5 Things Every Sports Parent Should Remember

Sports parent My older daughter is earning some extra money refereeing soccer this spring. The oldest kids she has refereed for have been 10. She's learned a lot about human nature in the two weekends she's been the ref.

My daughter is almost 13. She's refereed a grand total of 5 games. She took all the training, but there's no teacher like experience. She's probably missed a few calls. She's made some good calls.

In the two weekends she's been a referee, she has been berated by the center referee, cussed at by parents and yelled at by several coaches.

I'll be the first to admit as a sports parent that sometimes we get way too caught up in this child's game. We see a bad call, and we get vocal about it. What we forget, though, is that guy or girl in the striped shirt is a person. They're human. They make mistakes.

Earlier this year, I had a few conversations with both my daughters that have made me a lot less vocal on the sidelines. Having my daughter be the one taking the brunt end of parent frustration as a referee has me thinking things over again.

In the past few months, here are five things I've learned about how to be a sports parent (or the parent of a child doing any activity) that our kids want to have at their events.

1. Let the coach be the coach. My older daughter told me one day that we needed to not yell directions to her on the field because her coach is often telling her something different. It gets confusing and frustrating for the kids when the coach says one thing and mom or dad says the other. They know they're going to disappoint someone no matter what they do.

2. Don't yell at the referee. As my daughter says, "They have feelings, too." I'll admit this one is hard when they blatantly blow a call. But the truth is that it's not the parent's job to deal with the referees. If the calls are too egregious, the coach will say something.

3. Be supportive. No matter how bad the game or how poorly your own child is playing, always have something positive to say when they come off the field -- even if it's just "You'll do better next time." My daughter told me she only wants to hear my voice on the field if I'm cheering for her -- not giving directions, just cheering.

4. Remember who you represent. No matter where we go or what we do, we represent Jesus. We don't leave him behind when we go to the sports field. As Christ-followers, how we treat our kids, the coaches and the referees reflects back on Jesus.

5. Remember it's supposed to be fun. We went through a year last year where soccer wasn't fun for our daughter, and she was miserable. In the end, it's just a game played by children. Our culture has built youth sports up to the point where there's so much pressure involved that we've forgotten that this is a game. It's supposed to be fun. At the end of the game, there should be pats on the back and trips out for ice cream -- not an entire drive home rehashing the game. If my daughter wants to talk about the game on the way home, we do, but if she doesn't, then we move on.

Even though sports take up a lot of our kids' lives in this house, we have to put it in perspective. We have to remember that it's more important that our kids are having fun, making friends and being healthy than it is for them to win every game. It's more important for us to sit on the sidelines and cheer than it is to yell at the ref or try to coach our kids from the sideline.

Because in the end, it's a game. And it's supposed to be fun.

Focus on the Shots You Stop

Goalie My younger daughter played in a hockey tournament this weekend. Her team made it to the championship game. They were leading, but then the other team got three goals in a very short span of time. The goalie on my daughter's team was visibly upset and having a hard time getting his head back in the game.

When my daughter hit the ice for her next shift after the goals, she immediately headed for the goalie. She stood and talked to him, pointed at the scoreboard and talked some more. He went back to the goal and she went to her place on the ice. Her goalie stopped every shot that came his way after that and her team came back to win the game and the tournament.

After the game, I asked my daughter what she said to the goalie. "I just told him to look at the shot count on the scoreboard. He stopped a lot of shots and only let three in. I told him to focus on the ones he stopped. And I told him there was plenty of time left for us to win."

Wow. The wisdom of a 10-year-old. We could all apply some of that to our lives. As parents, it's easy to focus on our failures, on the missed teachable moments, on the days we lose our temper, on the situations we wish we'd handled better. But the truth is, there are a lot of days that we hit it on the head. There are a lot of days that we give our kids exactly what they need. A lot of days we stop every shot that comes our way.

It's human nature to focus on our mistakes, but if we let ourselves become defined by our mistakes, then we miss out on the true person God designed us to be. God didn't make you a parent to your child because He knew you were going to be perfect. He made you your child's parent because He knew that you were going to be the best parent for that child.

When we get stuck focusing on our mistakes, on the shots we didn't stop, we can get angry and frustrated with ourselves. We can get into a cycle where we continue to make the same mistakes. Sometimes we need someone else to calm us down and point us in the right direction. That someone is God. He tells us to cast all our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He tells us that He forgives us when we fail (1 John 1:9). We simply have to believe Him.

Believe me when I tell you that God doesn't care that you're not perfect. He knew that all along. He does care that when you miss a shot, you simply get back up, ask for forgiveness, and get ready for the next one. Because there's plenty of time left in the parenting game -- and you're going to stop more shots than you miss.

Why We Play Sports

Sports1 We have friends who think we're crazy. They don't understand why we spend four nights a week at a sports practice. They don't understand why we're willing to give up most of our weekends to go to soccer and hockey games. They don't understand why we sacrifice downtime to let our kids play competitive sports. Sometimes I wonder if we're crazy, too.

Then moments like Saturday happen when I watched my younger daughter step on the ice not to play a game but to teach others how to play the game. I watched this child who five years ago couldn't stand up on the ice take the arm of another little girl and escort her across the ice for her first taste of hockey.

Or there are soccer seasons like this one where I've watched my older daughter go from being a kid who had lost her confidence both on the field and off of it to becoming a still quiet, but confident, young woman -- all because a coach told her he believed in her.

It's these moments that make it all worthwhile -- all the driving, all the schedule juggling, all the freezing cold hockey rinks, all the rainy soccer games. It's the building of character and the teachable moments that keep us on the field and on the ice.

You see, I can teach my kids without sports. I can teach them how to win and how to lose well in life without them ever stepping onto a soccer field or a sheet of ice. I can teach them to honor God, be kind to others, and respect those around them without them ever scoring a goal or defending a pass.

But, for our family, sports gives us a place to test those lessons out. It creates an incubator for learning to follow God even under pressure. It gives my kids an opportunity to truly be a picture of Jesus even in the midst of a tense moment. It gives them opportunities to put all those lessons into practice.

Plus my kids love to play. They are passionate about their sports. They would rather play their sport than do just about anything else. We rarely have whining or complaining about heading to practice or games. And if God gave them a passion for it, then we want to give them the opportunity to pursue it.

Not every kid loves to play sports. Not every kid even likes sports. I'm not saying that every kid should play. What I am saying today is that every kid should have the opportunity to pursue their passions. Every kid should have a place where they can test out the lessons you're teaching them at home. Every kid should have an opportunity to perform under pressure. Whether that's on the sports field, on the stage, in the artist's studio, on the dance floor, or at a scouting event, we need to make sure our kids have an opportunity to pursue their passions and practice what we're teaching them.

Because what good is a passion if you can't do anything with it? What good is knowing Jesus if you can't share Him with others? What good is building character if there's never a chance to test it?

Our kids can only learn so many lessons in our homes. They can only practice so many behaviors. They can only follow God so far. We have to give them the chance to step into a situation that might be a little tense, a little frustrating, a little overwhelming for them to practice all that they have learned in our homes.

Because it's in those situations that character is built. It's in those situations where they can see God at work. It's in those situations where they can learn to make good choices. It's in those situations where they can truly decide where their passions lie.

And that's why we play sports. It's not the goals. It's not the wins. It's not the talent. It's not the competition. We play sports because my girls have a passion for them, and it gives them an opportunity to practice what they have learned at home.

What opportunities are you giving your kids to fulfill their passions and practice what they are learning at home?

 

What Good Coaches (and Parents) Do

game My older daughter played in a soccer game the other night. She’s playing winter outdoor soccer. Personally, I think the words winter, outdoor, and soccer should never be used in the same sentence, but that’s what we’re doing this year. The conditions are never great. It’s usually cold, windy and sometimes rainy.

The other night, her team did not play well. And my daughter was not playing well. About halfway through the first half, her coach pulled her off the field and had a short chat with her. After brief respite on the bench, she came back in the game. While her team still wasn’t playing well, my daughter got a bit more aggressive and started playing better.

Her team lost 4-0, the worst loss her team has suffered all year. After the game, I asked her what her coach had to say. “He said I was a good player but my head wasn’t in the game. Then he told me to come out of my shell and quit being timid,” she said. “Then he put me back in the game.”

When she said those words, I realized I could learn something about parenting from her coach. When my kids make a mistake, sometimes my first reaction isn’t the greatest. Sometimes, I don’t really care about teaching my kids or giving them another chance. I just want them to stop whatever behavior it is that’s incorrect. I tell them to “Stop it!” or discipline them without teaching them.

The approach my daughter’s coach took to improve her play on the field is the same one we should really be using when we parent. (Because, really, aren’t parents the ultimate coaches?) My daughter’s coach pulled her out of a situation where she was floundering, encouraged her, then pointed out the areas where she needed to be better. He ended the conversation with a pat on the back. Then, and here’s the important part, he put her BACK IN THE GAME.

We’ve had coaches who have pulled my daughter out of the game for a mistake, then let her sit on the bench for the rest of the game without explaining or helping her correct her mistake. And too often, that’s what I do to my kids. I discipline without explaining. I put a stop to the behavior but don’t give them a chance to correct the mistake. I cringe at the thought of putting them in that same situation again.

The most important thing we can do when trying to correct behaviors with our kids is to put them back in the game. We should pull them out for a moment, encourage them, correct the behavior, then give them a chance to try again. Put them in the same situation again and see how they do.

Because that’s what God does with us. He loves us. He encourages us. He corrects us. Then He wants us to grab a drink, take a breath, and get back in the game of life after we’ve made a mistake. He doesn’t want us to sit on the sidelines forever.

That’s the way we need to be with our kids. We don’t need to avoid the difficult situations because our kids might fail. We need to teach our kids how to work through those situations. Yeah, they might fail numerous times. But every time, we need to pull them out for a moment, encourage them, correct the behavior, and put them back in the game. Because that’s the only way they can learn. It’s the only way they will eventually get it right.

So, be a coach today. When your kids make a mistake, pull them aside, offer encouragement, offer correction, then send them back in the game of life. It’s what good coaches do.

What's Your Pre-Game Ritual?

competitive My younger daughter and I have a little ritual before she hits the ice for a hockey game. Because she's often the only girl on the ice, she dresses separately, and often alone. If she's the only one in the dressing room, I often stay to talk to her while she dresses. After she puts on her helmet, and before she heads to the locker room with her team, I bend down, hold on to the bars of her helmet and look her in the eyes.

And I say some version of this: "Play hard. Have fun. Be a leader. Do your best. I love you whether you win or lose." Then I pat her on the head and send her to the locker room.

Those few words may seem trivial. They may seem trite. But they are important. In this day and age there's a lot of ugliness in youth sports. Parents are the worst offenders. When your kids play competitively, it's easy to get way too caught up in the importance of winning or losing. And our kids can begin to think that winning is the only thing that matters. They can begin to think that our love is based on whether they win or lose.

And it's not just sports. Any competitive activity can become more than just an activity. Performing well in school, on the stage or on the sports field can become such a large focus of our kids' lives that they begin to believe that their worth as a person is based on how well they do in those activities.

And it's not. Their value is based on one thing -- the fact that they are a child of God, created and loved by Him. Sure, God gave our kids their talents and abilities, but He gave them those talents and abilities so that they could use them for Him -- not so they could feel worthless when they fail to win.

In this ultracompetitive society, our kids need to be told over and over and over again that our love -- and God's love -- isn't based on their performance. They need to hear us say, " I love you no matter what." They need to know that what's important to us isn't whether they score the winning goal or get the highest score or say all of their lines correctly. They need to know that what's important to us is the character they show while playing, performing, or going to school. They need to know that what's important to us is that they did their best and gave it their all.

Winning is fun. Trophies are great. But when our kids fail to bring home the trophy, when their mistake costs the team the game, they need to know that we still love them. They need to know that God doesn't think they're any less valuable. They need to know we've got their backs. Because the world will tell them the opposite.

If you don't have a pre-game or pre-performance ritual with your kids, think about starting one. Find some way to let your kids know that no matter how things turn out, no matter what the scoreboard says in the end, what matters to you is how they carry themselves on the field or during the performance. Let them know that no matter the result, you and God will still love them when it's over.

Three Ways to Use Sunday's Big Game as a Teaching Tool

Super Bowl Sunday is coming. It's one of the few events of the year that it seems the whole country is watching. It's also a great opportunity to teach your kids some valuable lessons about sportsmanship, hard work and teamwork. Many of us will gather with friends, eat some great food and watch the game. We'll see men on the field who have worked their whole lives to get to this point. Sure, they have some extraordinary talent, but they also have put in the hours to practice and hone their skills. Talent will only get you so far. Hard work is required to make it to the Super Bowl.

As you watch the game on Sunday, use it as an opportunity to teach your kids about some important character qualities. Here are some suggestions:

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1. Play the Big Game Character Scavenger Hunt. Use this free printable scavenger hunt and have your kids watch for the things on the card. Have them write down what they see for each item. It will help your kids focus on the character qualities of the people on the field rather than just the game. As you play talk with your kids about how even when we play sports or do some other competitive activity, we can still be pictures of Jesus on the field. We can still live out the character qualities God wants us to have. Offer a prize for the person who completes their scavenger hunt first.

2. Watch this video with the Seahawks players and an assistant coach:

Talk with your kids about how the coach says "Jesus is better than the Super Bowl." Talk about how these men have worked their whole lives to reach the Super Bowl, yet they still put Jesus first. Talk about how no matter what our goal are, no matter how high we reach, Jesus will still be better than anything we can achieve on our own.

3. Every time a team scores a touchdown, count the number of plays in the drive. Talk with your kids about how each of those plays requires everyone on the field to do their job. When the announcers break down a play and point out where a person made a mistake, talk with your kids about how each of those players has a job to do. Talk about how God has given every one of us special talents and personalities because we each have a job in his plan, just like the players on the field each have a job to do in the game.

The big game is Sunday. Don't miss a great opportunity to turn this sporting event into a teaching opportunity.

Why Losing is Important

losing My younger daughter and I went to a hockey tournament in Wichita this weekend. Her team lost 2, won 1 and tied 1. In my daughters eyes, it wasn't a successful weekend.

You see, my daughter hates to lose, and we're still learning to lose gracefully. She's still learning to find a way to be encouraging to her teammates when the score doesn't end in her team's favor. She's still learning that there's nothing you can do about a referee who makes bad calls and costs you a sure victory. She's still learning that you simply can't win every game.

Losing isn't fun. We all like to be the one that comes out on top, and some of us are wired to be a bit more competitive than others. No one likes to lose, but our kids need to learn how to lose well, how to be a picture of Jesus even when everything isn't going your way.

It's easy to walk into the locker room after you win. Everyone is on a high. Everyone thinks that their team played really well. Everyone is willing to offer grace to someone who made a bad play.

But it's much harder to offer grace when you lose. How do you offer grace to the player who made a bad decision and let the winning goal score? How do you offer grace to yourself when you are the one that screwed up?

Our kids need to learn to lose well because in this crazy life, they are not always going to win. There are going to be days when they fail a test. There are going to be days when they don't get the part they tried out for. There are going to be days when they don't get the job they interviewed for.

Knowing how to lose well means that they don't get stuck in the loss. It means they can analyze what went wrong and figure out how to keep it from happening again. It means that they can offer grace when someone else is at fault. It means that they can move on when they make a mistake.

But none of that comes naturally. We have to teach our kids to lose well. We have to help them find the bright spots in the midst of the loss. We have to help them identify the mistakes they made and how to fix them. We have to teach them to offer grace to others because we all make mistakes and that's what Jesus would do. Learning to lose well is a process. It doesn't happen overnight, and there may be some ugly moments in the learning process.

If we teach our kids to lose with grace, we also teach them how to move past disappointment and look toward the next challenge. We teach them that losing isn't the end; it's simply an opportunity to go in a different direction. While losing isn't fun, it is an important part of our kids' character development.

Share your tips for teaching your kids to lose with grace.

Balancing Sports and Family

sports My husband and I sat down to do our budget for the year the other day. If your budget is a reflection of your priorities, then ours are tithing, children's sports and health care. Since then, I've been pondering the whole idea of being a parent of kids who play sports competitively -- and just how much money and time they take from our family.

With two kids playing competitive sports, we miss a lot. There are weeks that we miss church. There are weeks that we miss birthday parties. There are weeks that we miss each other.

My younger daughter and I are headed out for a hockey weekend in Wichita. We'll split up our family this weekend because my older daughter has a soccer game here. Last night, my older daughter was sad because my other daughter and I are leaving and won't be here when she gets home from school.

We make sacrifices for our girls to play sports. We don't take a lot of big vacations. I work so the girls can play. We order our weekends around games. And we're no different from many of you.

There are days when I wonder if this sports-oriented lifestyle is healthy. There are days when I hate splitting up my family. There are weeks when I'd give a lot for a night at home playing games with my kids.

But there are days when I know that my girls are learning things between the lines of the soccer field and the boards of the hockey rink that I can't teach them at home. There are seasons where I watch my daughters learn perseverance and bask in the joy of using their God-given talents, and I'm convinced that playing sports is a good thing.

But I struggle with the balance. For whatever reason, sports have the tendency to become all-consuming. Gone are the days of your kids playing sports on a team of their friends and practicing once a week. That's been replaced by tryouts, one-on-one coaching, and three-night-a-week practices. And I wonder if that's healthy. I wonder if it's what's best for our kids.

As we try to raise our kids with a focus on God and helping others, we find that sometimes sports get in the way. And I don't know the solution. I wish I could sit here and tell you that we've figured it out, but we haven't. I wish I knew the perfect balance of family time and practice, but I don't. I wish I knew how to make it work so we never miss church or small group, but I don't.

What I do know is this. Every family has to find that balance. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything. We simply have to divide up the time so that in the midst of raising kids who play sports, we don't lose our families, we don't lose our teachable moments, we don't lose the opportunity to worship together as a family.

Sometimes that means we watch the taped version of our church service on Monday night. Sometimes it means we eat dinner at 8 p.m., so we can all eat it together. Sometimes that means we offer to take our kids to a different team's practice so that they can be a part of their student ministry small group.

Like so many things in life, parenting kids who play sports (or who do any time-consuming activity) is a balancing act. We just have to make sure the scales tip more in favor of God and family than they do in favor of splitting up our families.

What are your best tips for balancing kids' activities and family time?

Being Refined by the Tough Moments

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My girls learn a lot of life lessons from sports. That's a good thing because we spend a lot of time at either practice or games for them.

Recently, my older daughter learned that there's value in walking through a tough time. My daughter had a rotten year at soccer last year. She played for a team where the coach didn't think she was good enough to play much. She spent a lot of games sitting on the bench.

A switch to a new club and a new coach who sees the potential my daughter has as a soccer player and makes an effort to understand her as person, has changed her outlook on the game and on life in general.

But Friday night, my daughter's new team played her old team. She had her eye on this game for months. This was the one game on the schedule she wanted to win. She wanted to prove her old coach wrong.

As the game neared, we did a lot of coaching at home. We reminded her that even though she felt like she had something to prove, she needed to remember that she still had friends on that team. She needed to remember that no matter what was said to her on the field, she answers to a higher authority. She needed to remember that win, lose or tie, her value was not wrapped up in the score of a soccer game. And she needed to remember that without passing through her old team she would never have landed in the place she's in now -- the perfect place for her.

Sometimes despite the hurt and the agony at the time, God is using the tough stuff to get us ready for something better. He's using the fire of the tough moments to refine us, so that we can shine like gold. Zechariah 13:9 says "I will refine them like silver and test them like gold." God is talking about the Israelites during their years of captivity, but it applies to us today as well.

There will be times when our kids walk through a tough time. There will be times they will be tested. While those moments aren't fun, and they aren't easy, they are important. Because each time our kids come out on the other side of one of those moments, they come out stronger. They come out with a deeper understanding of who God is and what He can do in their lives. They come out with a better sense of who they are and who they want to become.

Walking through the tough times isn't fun, but it is necessary to building our kids' character so they can become the person God intended for them to be. And when those tough moments come, our kids need us to be there by their sides coaching them through the moment.

Finding the Light at the End of the Tunnel

tough

My older daughter played her first soccer games of the season this weekend with her new team. She played a lot and won both games. But that wasn't the best part of the games. The best part was the smile and the clear joy she found in playing this weekend.

She had a tough season last year. She didn't connect with her coach. She spent a lot of time riding the bench. Her confidence on the field was shattered. Soccer wasn't fun. It was draining. It was tear-stained. It was painful. There was no joy in playing.

Watching her play this weekend was like watching the sun come out from the clouds. Seeing her laugh with the other girls and play with confidence was a gift that I can't put a price on. It was the light at the end of a really dark tunnel for her.

Watching our kids go through tough moments, weeks, months and years isn't easy as a parent. God doesn't create those tough moments for our kids, but He does use them. He doesn't find any joy in watching our kids struggle, but He does take joy in watching them turn to Him in those moments of struggle. He doesn't want our kids to hurt, but He never wastes those hurts.

You see, tough times happen in everyone's lives. The struggles our kids go through, the ones that cause our mama's hearts to crack wide open for our kids, are never wasted. God uses them in powerful ways. It's just hard to see that in the midst of the struggle.

It's hard to step back from our kids' hurts and know that God is going to use those dark moments for good. It's hard to watch our kids struggle when we see their eyes filled with tears and their hearts being bruised. It's hard to know what to do to make it better.

In the midst of those moments, though, the best thing we can do for our kids is to point them to God, the Healer of all hurts and the Comforter of all broken hearts. It's only by relying on God that our kids (and us) can make it through those days in the middle of a dark tunnel, the days when the light seems so far away we don't think we'll ever get there.

Romans 8:28 says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." If we teach our kids to love God and to follow His calling, then we know that no matter how hard the day, no matter how long the tunnel, good is going to come of it on the other side. It may take us a while to see it, but God doesn't allow our hurts and struggles to go to waste.

We also know that God is simply waiting to comfort us. He is a God who sees and understands the broken-hearted. Jesus was betrayed and left alone by all of His friends. He knows what it's like to feel all abandoned. He was beaten and crucified. He knows what it's like to feel pain. He was followed by crowds everywhere He went. He knows what it's like to feel tired.

God understands our kids' pain. He understands the despair found in the darkness -- which is why He offers us light and comfort. Psalm 147:3 says, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Pointing our kids to God, teaching them to look for His light in the darkness, allows God to heal their hurts and bind their wounds in ways that are some much better than anything we can do.

All through last year's miserable soccer season, I kept telling my daughter that someday God would use those hurts to help someone else. I kept telling her that God would use the tough moments to mold her character. I kept telling her that she would find joy in playing soccer again.

We haven't seen how her hurt can help someone else -- yet, but we have seen how God used those moments in darkness to help her grow and mature. We have seen her step out of that tunnel into a season of light.

So, while the dark times in those tunnels aren't fun, when we turn our kids' hearts toward God, we find that He uses those moments to shape our kids -- and us.

10 Things I've Learned in the First Week of School

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It's the end of the first full week of school. I don't know if my girls have learned anything, but I have learned a lot. Here's just a few things I've learned this week.

1. 5:30 is really early, but it's worth it to get up and have an hour to myself before anyone else gets up. I won't make it through the weeks ahead without starting my day with a little quiet time with God. Those silent, stolen moments with Him are the thing that help me hold onto my patience and frustration during a day gone bad. Those stolen moments of solitude are what keep me going when all I want to do is take a nap. I am, however, considering taking up coffee-drinking.

2. If you're home all day, every day, the dog will follow you around and nap wherever you are. And he snores.

3. I didn't know nearly as much about my younger daughter's learning style as I thought I did. A week of being her only teacher has me scrambling to truly understand the unique way my daughter learns. Getting a better understanding of how God made her has been a blessing of this first week but has left me redoing lesson plans left and right.

4. Getting back into the school and sports schedule is hard. I miss my summertime nights where the family sat down to dinner together almost every night, followed by games of horse or some shared TV time. The school year has its own rhythm, but we haven't found it yet.

5. Sending my older daughter to camp this summer was the best decision we ever made. She came back more confident in who she is and who God is. She's probably the best equipped she's ever been to handle the social challenges that come with school. We've been back to school for more than a week, and we haven't shed a single tear over school, yet.

6. I still don't like to cook dinner.

7. Lists and schedules can help order the day. I still hate making lists, but I've found that for this week, at least, they're the only thing making sure I don't forget something.

8. Not every day is going to be great -- some days don't even break the good mark -- but God is there even in the midst of the bad days.

9. Sometimes you just need to take a break. The back porch is my new refuge. Fifteen minutes with a book, a game on my phone, or in prayer in the middle of the day is enough to get me through the afternoon.

10. Some weeks your house is just going to be messy. Figuring out the work, school and sports schedules this week has been hard enough. Trying to add housecleaning to the mix would have sent me over the edge. I've done the bare minimum, but this weekend we'll be having a house-cleaning party. I know my kids will love it.

The first week of school has brought a lot of learning to our home, but I think I've learned the most. Here's hoping that next week, I can learn some more.