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Why every parent should share a path with their kids

Sep 02, 2019


And stop yelling from the sidelines 

Let’s discuss an observation I've made over the last 20 years of teaching martial arts, engaging with parents and working with their children; the massive impact a dad has on their child when they actually participate in that activity.

It doesn't necessarily have to be martial arts. It can be any sports activity, artistic program or challenging interest your child has. But you can no longer stand on the sidelines, barking commands. I am challenging you to actually sharing the path they are on.

Whether it's at a coaching level, or it's actually participating in classes with your child, actually ‘doing the work’ makes an incredibly huge impact on how they view you.

Now, while some great fathers drop their kids off at sports or activities, football, baseball, soccer, wrestling, taekwondo, jiu-jitsu … others stay and sit on the sidelines. If there's one thing that has always really bothered me, (and I’m a pretty patient guy), is a father sitting on the sideline or bench telling their child to do something when that child is giving it his or her all. In my Dojo, it’s usually getting thrown, getting choked, grappling or locked out.

But meanwhile, Dad is sitting over there telling them what they’re doing wrong or how to do it right. Bad move. 

So in this article, I want to share with you the story of my two students, Jack and Colin and the transformative opportunity a Dad gave his son for life, by choosing to share a path with him.

It was over 20 years ago when a gentleman came into my dojo and shared with me the challenge he was having with his young son. He was an extreme behavioral problem, incredibly defiant to his parents. He was just abusive, violent, and had wicked outbursts.

Jack and his wife had done everything that they could for their son.

Dad thought that maybe a program like martial arts would be helpful.  By having some other male role models, being challenged in the dojo and working with peers his age might be a good thing. And I agreed.

When Colin got started in martial arts, I immediately noticed he was always referencing back to his dad, looking at him, talking about him… generally looking for his approval. Jack by the way, was not the type of Dad barking commands from the sideline. He just patiently watched class.

One night I decided to talk to Jack, "Hey Jack, you know, I think it might be a good idea if you get on the mat as well, and we can move Colin up into the adult class."  As Colin was a teenager, I tried to motivate Jack to come and participate with him in the adult class.

He'd never done anything like this. He wasn't an athlete when he was younger, but he recognized that he was having a big problem with his son. It didn’t take much motivating to get him on the mat for at least one class, and begin what would become a decade long path with his son Colin.

There was an immediate transformation that I was able to witness in the son, being there with Dad and actually watching this man become a student, seeing his Dad come down to his level, where they were both starting something completely new, in a new environment, among a new community of people that they didn't know. They were both doing something that they had never been exposed to before.

Years later, I was proud to watch Colin follow a career in the US Air Force, where he serves to this day, doing everything that he loves. Colin and Jack maintain an incredibly tight relationship.

I'm not suggesting that it was because of martial arts at all. My observation is that because Jack had the humility to come down to his son's level and put himself out there, put himself into a place where he's allowing his son see him get his ass kicked, falling and hitting the ground, getting choked out by other guys in front of his son, and generally creating something incredibly bonding between the two of them. The most valuable investment Jack could have made. 

Are you on a path with your children?

I mean something very different than being on a path for your children. Doing something for your kids such as working, isn’t what I mean.

Also, watching your child on their own path is not what I mean. Maybe you're a supportive parent from the bleachers, sidelines or out in the audience. That’s great, me too. The question I'm really asking is, are you sharing a path with your child?

In my world that's martial arts. Maybe it's something different for you. Maybe it's art or drama or physical performance. Maybe it's a sport. Are you sharing a path where your child sees the human side of you? Not so much as a peer, but more so as a colleague where they see your failures and weakness, and you are both able to share this together.  You’re able to say, “I was defeated here” or “I didn't get past this obstacle, and I was able to create an opportunity for learning and growth from that.

If your kids are looking at you to the side as opposed to having to always look up to you, it will help create a bond that is completely unbreakable. I’ve witnessed this myself.

If a parent isn't involved and barks commands from the sidelines, basically they're telling their kids to do something that they their self are not doing, that they can't do, that they don't have the ability or the capacity to be able to do. Maybe they did at one time, but they let it go. Otherwise, they'd be doing it, and “if it's so important to them to be able to bark commands to me on the mat, then why aren't you out here doing it like I am?

Instead, parents can watch, they can encourage and they can give a lot of positive support, positive reinforcement to their child and the other students. But giving commands from the sideline is not a good thing because it diminishes the trust and the confidence that the child has in what they're doing and the confidence they have with their parent.

Start Today

So what can you do right now if you don't participate in something and you don't have a shared path with your child?

Start. It's as simple as that.

Learn what they're passionate about, even if it means sitting down and playing video games once a week with your child, take on a character or participate in a gaming community that they're a part of.

If it's martial arts, I strongly encourage you to start now, regardless of what you think your own limitations are. The more, the better. Overcome. Get on the mat with your child.

If they’re doing taekwondo, start taekwondo.

If your child's doing wrestling at school, get on the mat. Ask the wrestling coach if you can be an assistant, get your wresting shoes on and get in there with the wrestlers, working with them.

If it's a sport, start coaching, start assistant coaching or a coach. That doesn't mean  you stand there and you holler commands with the clipboard in your hand. It means you go out there, you run the laps, you do the pushups, you kick the ball … you do everything with them.

And you keep pushing those kids, because you're going to get better performers and you're going to get stronger relationships within the team community.

Regardless what it is, it makes no difference if you suck at it, or your’e a former pro - just start.

And even if you start under your child, even if you come in a lower belt, or even if you get on the field and your child is exceptional at what they do and you've never done it before in your life… let your son or your daughter kick your butt at it.

Let your children see you fall and see you get back up.

I watched this happen with Jack and Colin, it created a bond that only every father would wish they had with their son.

As well, it creates a common goal that both can work towards. Both students are working together, supporting one another in accomplishing that next level. If it's something in the art space, then it's accomplishing that next showing or that next exhibit. If it's sports, it's winning the next game or getting to that next level. If it's martial arts, it's accomplishing that next belt.

Being able to support each other on that shared path is so important.

Take your time, because it’s all you got

Next, and most important, time, time, time.

It's the most precious commodity that we have with our children. I think we all know that by the time a child leaves high-school and goes off to college, we've already spent 80% of the time that we're going to spend with our children during their life in that period.

So why spend it on the sidelines?

Right now is so critical in getting out there, getting in the field, getting on the mat with your children, help to support the decisions that they're making.

Help to build a stronger sense of trust and faith and confidence in you, in the relationship that they have with you.

When all is said and done, one of the greatest outcomes of sharing a path with your child is that when something goes bad in their life, they are afraid or ashamed … it's going to be more likely that they'll speak to you about it, because you know what?

You're on a path with them. You’ve struggled together. You get them and they get you at a better level.