I’ll never forget what happened about this time of year back when I was in high school, between my freshman and sophomore years.
It was a sweltering day on the practice field for the Andrew Lewis High Wolverines. Back then, a lot of guys played on offense as well as defense, and I liked wide receiver, but mainly I was thinking I’d end up at defensive end.
During one practice, our whole team was together, doing offensive drills. I was running patterns as a receiver. At one point, I ran a post pattern and the coach stopped practice. He said, “Casey, get back over there and do that again.”
Uh-oh. Coach was pretty hard on us, so I was bracing for the worst. I got back in position and ran it again.
He said, “Get back over there and do it again.” Now I was getting really worried and a little embarrassed. Why is he mad at me?
This time, he went and stood about ten yards in front of me, like he was going to cover me. He blew the whistle, and I did the same pattern and ran down the field.
Then he stopped again and yelled out, “Yes! That’s it! Did y’all watch that?” He even asked me, “Why did you do what you did?” And I was like, “Well, it’s a post pattern, so I kind of faked a step this way to turn your hips, then I went that way.”
Again, in front of everyone, he said, “Yes, that’s it.”
The whole thing took only a few minutes, but as I look back at that time in my life, that was one of the defining moments for me. Based on the way my coach affirmed me that day, I started thinking I could be a good athlete and take it further. And I was blessed to have some success as a wide receiver through high school and in college. Through the process I gained a lot of confidence, and the relationships and connections I made through the game helped to pave the way for me to become who I am today.
I still believe a key moment was that simple affirmation from my coach on the practice field.
I tell you this story because, as fathers and father figures, we underestimate the power we have when we speak into the lives of the children around us. Coaches are in a natural position to do this on a regular basis—and the theme of building up kids is very evident in the movie When the Game Stands Tall, a powerful story about a high school football coach and team in California. (I’ll be writing more about the movie in the coming weeks. It comes out in theaters on August 22.)
When adults today talk about their fathers, too often they remember mostly criticism or even being cursed by them. One woman recalls her father actually telling her, “You won’t amount to anything.” It’s a little hard for me to imagine, but quite a few people share that story.
It’s such a shame, because as fathers and father figures, we have the power to launch dreams through our words!
It’s easy to acknowledge how much kids benefit from affirmation instead of criticism—but it’s much harder to do on a regular basis. Are you really affirming your children in a way that’s meaningful to them?
We need to be intentional and focus our energies on looking for ways to build up our kids, not tear them down.
Certainly, there will be times when our kids overstep boundaries or act selfishly, when our children may deserve and even expect a tough consequence. Carrying out correction and discipline is part of our role, too. But let’s make sure affirmation comes in equally large doses, and with equal or greater passion.
I didn’t do everything perfectly at football practice that summer years ago, and I got chewed on plenty for things I did wrong. I probably learned something from those words, but they didn’t stick with me. What I remember most today is that affirmation from my coach. I think it will be the same with your kids when you speak affirmation to them.
Dad, look for opportunities to celebrate the good you see in your children and other young people around you. Go out of your way to affirm them for a skill or character quality. Like my coach—and my Pop and other men I was privileged to have in my life—you just might launch some great dreams.
I’d like to hear more examples. When were you affirmed in a memorable way—or how have you done something similar for your child? Please share about it on our Facebook page.
Action Points for Dads on the Journey
- Make an appropriate physical connection with your child every day, and make sure at least some of your affection is not tied to something she has done. You just want to express your love.
- When speaking a blessing to your child, slow down to make sure she gets every word. Also, don’t go overboard and say that aren’t true. Your words will stick with her, and either now or later, she’ll see through them.
- When you think about ways to bless your child, think less about being generous with gifts and money (though there may be times for that), and more about being generous with your time and your heart. Schedule time together, and give him your undivided attention.
- Find an appropriate reason and way to affirm your child more publicly—when friends or teammates are around.
- Toss the football with your child, or practice another sport he or she enjoys. Make sure to notice and point out what he’s doing right.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization seeking toimprove the lives of children and establish a positive fathering and family legacy that will impact future generations by inspiring and equipping fathers and father figures to be actively engaged in the life of every child. We encourage you to help us change the culture of fathering in America by joining the Championship Fathering Team. You can also sign up for Carey’s weekly email tips by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who lives out loving, coaching and modeling for my children.