Parenting Principles from LaVar Ball…this is NOT

Recently, I came across an interview I did with former three-time high school All State and University of Hawaii softball player, and present sports parent, coach, writer/blogger Stacie Mahoe. The interview was titled Parenting a True Champion and was for her blog Winning from the Inside Out, a site written to help athletes, coaches and parents navigate our current sports culture, with a focus on creating positive youth sports experiences that are fun and meaningful to kids.

The reason the interview caught my eye centered on two factors. First, the enormous depth Stacie brought to the interview with the questions she asked. I had been interviewed by WGN Channel 9 Midday News, Great Day Live out of Louisville, as well as on numerous sports radio shows, podcasts, and by bloggers…and as informative as those interviews were…they paled in comparison to the thought-provoking and detailed conversation through which Stacie led me.

Second, was the vast difference between the message in the above interview…and the message promoted by LaVar Ball in mitigating/dealing with the circumstance his son,  LiAngelo Ball (former UCLA basketball player), faced for shoplifting in China (thus, the title of this post).

It is the difference between these two messages that compelled me to post several pieces of Stacie’s original interview. As mentioned, the interview was very in-depth and detailed (and lengthy), some of which would only pertain indirectly to the topic at hand…so I pulled only questions and responses that seemed most relevant (feel free to read the full interview HERE…if so inclined). One thing is for certain, no matter where you may sit on the recent LaVar Ball/LiAngelo Ball issue, or with any other sports parenting debate, the conversation prompted by Stacie will likely give you some very solid food for thought.

Parenting a True Champion (Interview Excerpts)

When I came across Kirk Mango’s website, Becoming a True Champion, it immediately caught my attention! That same day I reached out to him and asked if he’d be interested in talking about this topic with me and I’m so happy he graciously agreed!

We exchanged a few emails back and forth and, as you’ll see very soon, Kirk provided some in depth answers to many of the questions I asked. I hope you enjoy his responses as much as I do…

When I saw your FanPage on Facebook, I was immediate(ly) intrigued because of the phrase “True Champion.” For me that communicates a mindset, a way of being each day, more than a trophy or title.

Yes it does…that is an important piece of becoming a True Champion.

What is a true champion to you?

That is a great question…and one I wished was asked more often. In short, a true champion is one who has a much stronger focus on the process of becoming the best they can be (applying all the intrinsic components necessary to achieve that) rather than the outcome…like winning.

They do win, even championships, but they seek reaching their true full potential, all while following a more positive code of ethical standard than what we see from so many these days. And they do this both on and off the field. It is a standard one aspires to reach. An important piece of becoming a True Champion is demonstrated through the prose The Code of a True Champion code [bottom of the linked page].

One question I am asked often is about my kids. How do you get them to…You’ve raised two athletes, so I’d like to talk about that for a bit. Obviously, most parents, parents of athletic children included, want what’s best for their child. But we all make mistakes. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see parents make with their athletic child?

Yes…mistakes are inevitable…it is part of life. Kids do not come with a handbook that is for sure. In thinking about your question a couple of things come to mind:

I would say the #1 biggest mistake I see from parents centers on NOT allowing their athletic kids to take responsibility for, and ownership over, their athletic experiences…both successes and failures. Whether through disagreements with coaches on playing time, player position, starting…or jumping from team to team in order to circumvent adversity…or looking for favoritism (directly or indirectly)…or the countless verbal/physical confrontations between parents and coaches we read about in the media…or any number of similar circumstance, all encompass some level of removal of responsibility and ownership away from the athlete.

It is important to keep in mind that it IS about the athlete…not the parent…AND with strong intrinsic foundations athletes will learn much more from the adversity they face and failures they experience than they will through their successes. Of course the above statement will need to be age appropriately applied as one should never allow an emotionally, physically, or socially damaging situation to continue; however, it is much more common for parents to “enable” their athletic youth.

Next on my list would be accountability. Not holding athletes accountable for the choices they make creates an environment where they are taught entitlement…that is not a good thing and it is rampant in our current sports culture.

Supporting, and directly or indirectly conveying to their kids, a belief system of winning (outcomes) over and above simply working toward doing the best that they can…through a focus on the process.

Even though there are others…these are probably the BIG 3 in my book!!!

What are some things parents can do that actually make it HARDER for their kids to bounce back?

First word that came to mind when I read that question was enabling them…doing for them things that they are more than capable of doing themselves. Making life too easy…coming to their rescue every time they have a problem…never letting them solve problems on their own…come up with their own solutions.

Another piece would be expecting them to be perfect…much different than having high expectations…and when they aren’t (because no one is)…the parent taking charge themselves which demonstrates to them that they really weren’t capable in the first place. There are others…but these were my first thoughts.

Stacie: As a parent and coach, I understand the feeling of wanting to take charge.  You see your child (or your players) flailing and struggling and they clearly don’t know what to do and you want to help. Instead of jumping in and taking over, what can parents do instead?

This is a great question. From a parent’s, and also coach’s, perspective…it is much easier to just jump in and take over. AND there are times where that does need to happen, especially when coaching.

However, often, it is a good idea to mentally take a step back from said circumstance, giving thought to how best to get the athletes themselves to see the issue you see and to come up with solutions to those issues or problems. Sometimes, simply explaining the issue that presents itself…then asking the athletes their suggestion to fix the problem is helpful.

Another possibility is coming up with alternative options that the athletes can pick from. This way you do have some control over the direction the athletes might travel…but…they also feel empowered in the process. You are stepping in…but they are gaining ownership over the choice that is made. In fact, any creative way where they become part of the problem solving process would be great…rather than always having the athlete being in a subordinate role in this process.

This is all keeping in mind that, most of the time, athletes will learn more from their struggles and failures, when given the opportunity, than they will from their successes. Too many forget this important piece.

I would agree than many parents tend to err on the side of enabling or babying their athletes, trying to shelter them from consequences or disappointment.  At the same time, we also see parents on the complete other end of the spectrum.  Those who punish their child for anything and everything.  Is there a middle ground to be found? Does holding your child accountable mean dishing out punishments for every mistake?  Does allowing them to be accountable for their own performance and their own choices mean not helping at all and allowing them to “sink or swim” within a sports environment?

Both extremes you’ve mentioned, “enabling or babying their athletes” and “punishing their child for anything and everything,” are likely not the best path. Keeping in mind that every child is different, and what works exceptionally well for one does not necessarily work the same for another. I believe it is important to start from a position of solid ethical standards. That, to me, is where the middle ground lies.

Focusing on things like character, sound work ethics, honoring one’s commitments, setting solid priorities, etc., are all a big part of what we want kids to learn through their sports experiences. Thus, it is important to hold kids accountable for those pieces of the puzzle. And holding one accountable doesn’t necessarily mean punishment. It can, depending on the circumstance, but that is only one of many ways to hold one accountable.

Sometimes, holding one accountable can simply mean allowing the natural consequences of one’s choices to dictate what happens. It can also mean having open discussions about certain behavior, both positive and negative, or even, on the other hand, having a home consequence on top of the natural consequences that occur. It all depends on the circumstance…as well as the age of the athlete…and the lesson one wants to teach. And yes…there are times (especially when the truth is given and mistakes are admitted) where flexibility in consequence is much preferred over punishment.

Lastly, enabling versus helping an athlete along their path is not the same thing. When one enables…they are doing things for kids that they really should be handling on their own…or shielding/sheltering them from circumstance/disappointment that they could learn from. Whereas helping centers more on encouragement, teaching, suggesting alternatives, building confidence, etc….much less doing for and rescuing and much more assisting or aiding.

Again…this is all age appropriate as well. How you might handle a 16 or 17 year old dealing with an adverse circumstance may very well be different than how you might deal with an 8 or 9 year old.

Even though I do agree with the many who believe highlighting further the circumstance created by LaVar Ball plays right into his exploitive nature…I simply could not pass up the opportunity to support a different message.




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