The recent news out of Texas, where a 16 year old driver was only given probation for driving drunk and killing four innocent bystanders, popularized a new psychological term in the process. Apparently, parents raising children in wealthy suburbs with little oversight, few rules, and utter indifference to their behavior are causing “affluenza,” a supposed condition that causes a sense of entitlement, irresponsible behavior and, I will just say it, a generation of spoiled brats.
Like many people, I first thought this might be a farcical article from “The Onion.” Then, I was appalled by the lack of a jail sentence for the driver. I was even more appalled that we live in a country where some people see wealth, privilege, and an abandonment of parental responsibilities as an excuse to commit manslaughter. Yet the point of this article is not to discuss the despicable lack of a jail sentence, nor is it to argue the merits of whether this is actually a psychological condition or not.
What I would like to discuss is the similar condition that I see in many young athletes. These athletes – many of them, but not all of them, coming from well-to-do families – display an apathetic, indifferent attitude toward challenging situations, difficult training, tough coaches, and most any obstacle that lies in their path toward their goals. At every obstacle, they turn back. They may have great talent and coaching, but they are missing the mental toughness that is required to be a high performer. Usually, this condition exists because the adult role models in their lives shelter them from challenges, swoop in before they can fail, and excuse entitled attitudes by blaming coaches, teachers, and other adults who are actually trying to teach their kids to be a bit tougher.
This lack of grit and mental fortitude is common, and I have written about the importance of grit and the willingness to suffer to achieve goals in the past. Each time, I received the same question numerous times: Can I teach my kids grit?
In one word, YES.
In fact, it is our responsibility as parents and coaches to teach this. I recorded a short video explaining three things parents and coaches can do to teach their kids grittiness and tenacity (or keep reading if you prefer the literary version.)
To instill grit, determination and self control in your players there are three simple steps you can take:
1. Allow them to FAIL: In fact, encourage them to fail! If you are always making excuses for failure, blaming other coaches, referees, players, etc., you have lost sight of the fact that failure is a MANDATORY component of both learning and becoming mentally tough. Children who are not allowed to fail never have any obstacles to overcome, and blame things outside of themselves for their failure. Every time they encounter an obstacle, they wait to be carried over it, they wait for the problem to be solved for them. They do not persevere, they do not persist; they only learn to give up. Let your kids fail, and teach them how to learn from failure.
2. Praise Them for Effort and Tenacity: if you want an athlete with sports “affluenza,” then by all means praise him for his talent, intelligence, and ability. But if you want a determined, gritty athlete, then praise tenacity, point out the importance of perseverance and struggle, and highlight his achievements which came through sustained effort over the long haul. Children who are praised for being gritty will come to value, and even embrace the persistent pursuit of long term goals.
3. Be a Model Grit for Your Athletes: This is a tough one, but remember that kids hear what we say, but remember what we do. Don’t complain about things out of your control that effected a sports outcome, or blame your boss or co-workers because you did not get the promotion. Instead, be honest about your disappointment with your kids, explain to them how while you are upset, you are going to work even harder, that this is a goal worth attaining, and soon achievement will come. You can even do something on your bucket list, such as sign up to run that marathon, do your first triathlon, or set out to lose some weight. Demonstrate for your kids that what you are doing is not easy, but it is worth the struggle, disappointment and perseverance required of achieving it.
It is our job to teach grit and mental tenacity to our children, be they our players or our own kids. Our society is coining terms like “affluenza” because to many adults do not have the courage to be role models, and to create boundaries for our children.
Every time we undermine a coach, or blame a bad referee for a loss, we steal the opportunity to become gritty from our kids. Every time we don’t say “What can we learn from this” when our kids face trying times, we are failing our kids.
There is no better place than sports for teaching our kids what it takes to exist in the real world.
There is no better place to teach grit.
There is no better time than now to teach and model grit for or kids.
Better start soon. It’s “affluenza” season.
Please share your thoughts and comments below, and if you wish, CLICK HERE to take Dr. Angela Duckworth’s Grit Test, and let us know how you did.