Dear Athletic Support: My son has played football since he was in fifth grade. He’s now a junior and getting substantial playing time, but lately he’s been saying he’s “just not that interested anymore.” When I asked him why, he said it was because he knew he wasn’t good enough to get a college scholarship. A few of his buddies quit the team previous to this season after voicing similar concerns. I’m afraid my son will soon follow in their footsteps. What, if anything, can I do to keep him playing, even if it’s just for the love of the game? — Brokenhearted
Dear Brokenhearted: This is by far one of the scariest questions I’ve ever been asked. Its implications reach farther than football, farther than sports, and into the not-too-distant future of our youth.
Can you see it?
A world where nobody tries anything anymore, unless they’re guaranteed instant success.
This image gives me the willies. It keeps me up at night. Why? Because I’m afraid this prophecy is close to becoming a reality, if it’s not already.
Just the other day I was on the phone with a college football coach. He was telling me how high school football rosters were shrinking all across the country. I thought maybe this was about parents pulling their kids out of football because of concussions, CTE, or heat illness…
I was wrong.
According to this coach, kids were quitting on their own, at alarming rates, simply because they didn’t think they were good enough to get college scholarships.
There are many possible explanations for this current phenomenon, but none is more pertinent than the rise of “instant everything.”
Delayed gratification is a thing of the past. Kids these days aren’t interested in hard work or prolonged success. They want it all, and they want it now!
For the most part, I’d argue social media is to blame.
Think about it. Children born after the year 2000 have grown up with cellphones in their hands. Their whole sense of self-worth seems to be determined by Facebook “likes” or Instagram “followers.”
Crazy? Yes. But also (sadly) true.
So, Brokenhearted, the only answer I can offer on how to keep your son motivated — despite his slim chances at earning a scholarship — comes to you straight from Carol Dweck’s bestselling book, Mindset.
“If parents want to give their children a gift,” says Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, “the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise.”
In other words, teach your kids to enjoy the journey. Those long grueling practices in the summer; the effort they give when no one is watching — that’s what truly matters.
If we can teach our kiddos to play for the love of the game, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll end up winning in the game of life, too.
Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit elicranor.com.