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ChicagoWhiteSoxLogoI’ve been getting a lot of calls lately about Adam LaRoche. He’s the former Chicago White Sox player who retired last week after being asked to limit the amount of time his 14-year-old son, Drake, was spending with the team.

There wasn’t a problem with Drake. According to all media reports and interviews Drake is a fine young man who brought positive energy to the clubhouse. The problem was that Adam was bringing him to work every day – not just once in a while, or even three days a week, but every day.

LaRoche walked away from 13 million dollars because the team asked him to “dial back” the amount of time his son was spending with the club. It’s nice that he can afford to do that, but that’s not what bugs me the most about this story.

AtticusFinchThose of you who have read my book know that I consider setting an example to be perhaps the most significant part of the parenting process. You also know that I believe in respecting authority and accepting the fact that we sometimes have to compromise and do what’s best for the group – like sitting quietly in class when we’d rather be talking to our neighbor.

As parents, my wife and I have functioned as both benevolent dictators and team players. We’ve encouraged our children to participate in our decision-making and guided them through the process. If the ultimate plan was not logical to us, we made the decision we thought best and explained why. We taught our children to “get over it” and move on.

Adversity is parAskDadCleant of life.

As a corporate executive, I have tried to keep the values of my workplace consistent with the expectations and desires of my employees. Sometimes that’s been possible, and sometimes it has not. In many cases I’ve had to consider whether making an exception would be setting a precedent that I couldn’t apply to the entire company. If I let one person bring their dog to work, would I (legally) be BlogLite08able to say no to others? What if someone in the company had an allergy to dogs? If one of my employees wanted to quit their job because I couldn’t allow their pet (no matter how well-behaved), I guess that would be their right.

So, if I’m the White Sox organization and I don’t want to allow every player to bring their child to work every day, I have to make a decision about Adam LaRoche – no matter how wonderful his son Drake may be. I understand that my players travel a lot and miss time with their families, but I also hope that Adam understands my reasoning and respects my need to make that decision on behalf of the organization.

None of us really knows what happened behind the scenes in this case, but there appeared to be very little room for compromise.   The team politics, however, are just noise surrounding what I think is the biggest problem – and here it is:

I don’t want to teach my child that when things don’t go his (or her) way, she should just pick up the ball and leave. I want my child to learn how to solve problems instead of walking away from them. I want my child to learn to compromise.

As a known figure, respected ballplayer and father, I would assume that Adam LaRoche wants the same for his children and children everywhere. So, although he has the right to do whatever he wants to – both as a parent and a player – I am saddened by the example it sets for young fans everywhere.

Also… I sure wish I could afford to walk away from thirteen million bucks.

Let’s not blame the trophies.

First, it’s important to note that I’m not addressing the concept of “grade inflation” or the idea that every child in a given class is an honor student (as was eloquently written about by Michael Sigman in his article “When Everyone Gets a Trophy, No One Wins.”)

I’m writing about sports — and specifically the types of trophies that athlete, and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison denied his children and posted about on Instagram. In his post, Harrison pointed out that “Sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better.”  James Harrison’s parenting decision is a reflection of the values he wants to teach his children, and I applaud his making a point and defining those goals for his children, however I don’t think they need apply to everybody.

Here’s the thing. When you’re nine years old, it’s probable that your best isn’t going to be good enough. In fact, maybe when you’re that age the functions associated with being on a team, learning to accept that other people play before you and that you’re not cut out to be an athlete may actually be your best.

My father wasn’t in the NFL.  I was a marginal athlete — but I still love and play sports.

I was getting Little League trophies for being part of the team long before they became controversial. I didn’t have the luxury of being one of the “stars” — but I knew who the stars were — we all did. They were the guys who got the MVP (most valuable player) and were named team captain. They were the kids with a drive that I didn’t have for sports, who were ultra-competitive, and who cried when our team lost a game. They were often the kids with parents who were driving their sporting careers, even though, as eight-year-olds, they were a long way from the majors.

I wasn’t ever going to be one of them.

But I loved getting my year-end trophy. I loved having the coach say a few encouraging words about me at the season ending pizza party. I liked being part of a team — a group of kids who had been forged into friendship by our ups and downs on the field — and watching my teammates each get recognized and kidded about events during the past season was as fun as the games for me.

We knew who sucked, and we knew who didn’t.

My trophy wasn’t about my on-field achievements, at least that’s not what it represented to nine-year-old me.  It reminded me that I was on a team with my school pals. It reminded me that I should be at the game a half hour before game time so that I could warm up. It reminded me that I shouldn’t ask the coach when he was going to put me into the game. It also reminded me that I had made one miraculous catch, and even though I’d never gotten a hit that year, my friends accepted me as a member of their team.  It was mostly a souvenir – a physical representation of the experience.

So, why would we want to deny our children an icon that would similarly remind them of those experiences? Trophies aren’t entitlements. This isn’t about teaching our children that only the strong survive (at age six through twelve). This is about marking the fact that they had kept a commitment and shown up to the games. That they had experienced the wins and losses with everyone else, and had contributed, to the best of their abilities, to the outcomes of those contests.  Participation trophies are not a gateway drug to entitlement.

As far as I can tell, none of my peers lost their “drive to want to do better” because they’d gotten a trophy for participating. Many of my Little League teammates grew up to be hard-working professionals, run businesses and even supervise school districts.

I coached Little League. I coached AYSO. My kids had winning and losing records, but all of my clubs were taught what it meant to compete and to be part of a team. If the league didn’t provide trophies, I would make a certificate for my players. I gave a Sportsmanship Award. I gave a Best Attitude certificate, and then a series of funny, personalized “awards” like the “Timex Award” for a player who took a licking and kept on ticking. These awards were given at a group event, with appreciation, understanding and humor.

Not everyone on our team was great, but all of them made some sort of contribution — even if their contribution was teaching the better players how to be patient with teammates who weren’t as skilled as they.

My mantle no longer holds my participation trophies, or those of my children, but all of our trophies served a valuable purpose in our lives. In those moments they reminded us that we were part of a team, something bigger than ourselves — a lesson that shouldn’t be lost on today’s youth.

So, let’s not blame the trophies.  Let’s take responsibility for the way our children are being parented.

Although slightly modified, this blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

This is a great time of year for sports. We’ve just seen a great French Open, Stanley Cup Final, and NBA Final.

DodgerStadiumWhether you’re an athlete or not, sports offer real opportunities to teach values, focus, and tenacity.  As parents, even just watching sports with our children provides us all with many teachable moments.

Fairness
Sports is one of the few places where decisions are made instantaneously, and rules are applied absolutely. If a player’s foot is on the line, the ball is turned over. If the puck is thrown to the opposite end of the ice, it’s brought back for a face off in the offensive end of the rink.  If a ball bounces out of bounds in basketball, it changes hands.  A strike is a strike – and the umpire is always right.  Im many cases, we, as players disagree with these calls – but learning to live with them is an important part of the “game.”

Heroes Being Parents
Some people have criticized Golden State’s Steph Curry for bringing his two year old daughter, Riley, to his press conferences. Not only has this highlighted him as a calm and loving parent, but Riley’s managed to melt everyone’s heart and remind us all that even if we’re basketball’s MVP, our primary responsibility on Earth is to love and guide our young ones (as he does so well).

Meritocracy
EmBaller2
On the playground, away from parent coaches and organized activities, participation in sports really comes down to an outright meritocracy. As children, athletics often present us with our first opportunities to prove ourselves and our abilities. Ironically, athletics also present us with the realization that we may not be chosen first, or that our friends aren’t necessarily very nice when they’re competing. These are real feelings, and the sooner our kids learn to deal with them – to focus their frustration, and hone their competitive instincts — the better they will be able to deal with this type of adversity as they get older.

Handshakes
StanleyCupThin
One of the things I like most about hockey is the post-game lineup for handshakes – especially after a particularly hard-fought series (as we saw this week in Chicago). Despite the brutal competition and apparent anger that arises during the games, the winning team is forced to stop their immediate celebration in order to congratulate their opponents on their valor and the quality of their play. This goes for every player and coach on the team – who all dutifully line up behind their captain and share the humanity that lies at the base of their competition. The Stanley Cup is full of tradition, much of which my children have taught me to enjoy.

Chooser or Chosen?
When it comes time to pick teams on the playground, you are either a chooser or a chosen. Typically, the best athletes are given the honor of choosing and it’s clearly in their interest to select the most able player available. It doesn’t feel very nice to be chosen last… but it happens, and it happened to me as well as many others.

VVSBasketballHeightLineI recently attended a gathering of elementary school friends who came together to honor one of our classmates. This classmate had been a stellar athlete in our childhood – he was definitely a “chooser” – who, after thirty years as a coach, classroom teacher, and principal recently accepted the position of Superintendent of Schools for our childhood district. During our verbal tributes, one of our classmates pointed out that Steve, our honored friend, had always chosen him, despite his self-professed lack of athletic ability. In response, Steve explained that Stephen (our other classmate) had thanked him many years earlier “for always choosing me, so that I didn’t have to be last” and that having heard that  Steve was so touched that it changed his lifetime approach to teaching his students a more sensitive way to chose teams.

Being a “good sport” is something our children will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  Using sporting events is a wonderful way to create some perspective about the importance of winning, and to motivate conversations about competition, and fair play

Although sports is no longer the exclusive domain of Dads, this is a great occasion to wish a Happy Father’s Day to all the brave guys (and gals) who teach kids to deal with “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”