Within a 36 hour period I encountered two sets of parents who shared similar concerns about their young athletes. The stories are so alike and so common that the topic is worthy of closer examination.
Each situation involves high school age student/athletes that have been blessed with academic as well as athletic talent. For clarification, when I use the word talent I'm referring to the gifts given to each boy because they picked their parents carefully! Both boys have been told many times how talented they are. Their respective parents share a belief held by many parents today: My son is not putting forth the effort required for him to truly excel and reach his potential. He's not working hard enough, and he doesn't seem to care!
I confess to having had similar feelings toward our daughter (when she was that age) regarding her athletic training thinking that she should work harder. I knew what it would take for her to reach particular goals and I often tried to push her toward more effort. Yesterday I asked my wise and level-headed wife for her thoughts about those instances when I was urging more effort from our daughter. She reminded me that the over-riding message coming from me toward her at that time was one of disapproval. Between my looks, my tone, and the words chosen, the frequent message being sent was that she wasn't good enough to please me. I submit that this is not the kind of message we want to send to our children. It actually implied that my love was conditional even though I didn't mean it.
It is very hard to affirm someone who in your eyes is not giving their best, but I think we need to find reasons to affirm him or her anyway. to affirm the person he is not necessarily all his behaviors or choices of course, but indeed we want to affirm him as worthy and most importantly, free to choose.
The more I speak with parents about these very common issues that concern us about our children and their efforts, the more I realize we are coming from a place of fear. We're afraid they won't turn out right or afraid they won't get the opportunities we want for them or afraid they won't achieve what they're capable of achieving ..but it's all about our fears, and we should know that's not really the best place to be coming from. If we've raised our children by the example we set with our own work ethic, then we must have faith in them to grow in that direction. There may be some detours and long-cuts (as opposed to short-cuts) but overall they're going to have a success story somewhere because of the values we've taught them. Their work ethic will kick in when they're ready. For now, we must keep our children feeling close to us, rather than feeling like they're displeasing us over things that really belong to them. like grades and athletic opportunities. This is the lesson of choice leading to consequences that every child...and adults must learn.
The book Mindset by Carol Dweck is a great resource for young athletes to look over. They'll find a lot of interesting information about accomplished athletes and their experiences. Sometimes finding a message in a book is easier to accept then coming from parents!