Just at the sight of the cup being pulled out of the cupboard is all it takes. In a heartbeat, my 1-year-old son’s face is instantly drenched in tears and planted flush against the kitchen floor. He waves his arms wildly in front of him to keep the cup at a safe distance, and the rest of his body follows as he collapses into a lump of kicking, screaming, crying, unhappy toddler. He doesn’t want that cup. He wants the bottle next to the cup; or maybe the other cup next to that cup. Can’t say for sure because he can’t say for sure. He can’t talk yet. He can’t express why he’s upset. The only thing that’s clear is that he isn’t getting what he wants, and as a result, his reaction is to just shut down.
Shutting down. It can be tempting, even for us adults.
We may not throw a temper tantrum and collapse on the floor, but instead of challenging ourselves to clearly articulate what we want or to work with others to figure out a solution to our problem, we shut down. We turn away. We push others away.
We avoid the harder work of trying to sort through adversity and disagreement. We’d rather give up than give in to the reality that the only way to get what we want will require more effort, sacrifice, and maybe even compromise. And even then, we still may not get what we want. So we take our proverbial ball and go home.
I know that if I continually give into my son’s tantrums, he won’t have a lot of motivation to learn how to control his emotions and communicate more clearly. In the same way, if our own default is to shut down in the face of adversity, what incentive will any of our kids have to do anything different?
That’s one of the reasons why I believe youth sports is so important.
When done right, youth sports can be like a laboratory where kids can experiment with how to face obstacles head on, how to resolve conflicts, and how to be part of something bigger than themselves. To have a common purpose and goal. To be part of a team.
Consider some of the characteristics of teams that accomplish great things.
Our country and our world have their fair share of problems and disagreements, and if we want current and future generations to be able to address those challenges by committing to a shared purpose and goals that are bigger than themselves, then we need to set the right example and provide opportunities (such as through youth sports) where they can learn how to actually work together with others.