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Teaching Your Kids: Joining the Team

Being brave doesn't mean being unafraid. It means being afraid and doing it anyway.

One of the most common fears young people face early in their lives is trying something new. And the uncertainty and apprehension of failure that comes along with that can be crippling. And if it's not overcome as a child, it can haunt someone throughout their life. Like it did for Kerri Whitfield.

When Kerri was in the fourth grade, her family moved to a new town. Two years later, she was still feeling like the new kid. She'd made a few friends but still didn't know that many other twelve-year-olds. Well, watching one of her girlfriends play on a softball team that summer, Kerri sat in the bleachers and secretly wished she was on the field with her. She thought it looked like fun. And her girlfriends were clearly making a lot of new friends that way, too. Well, eventually, her friend asked Kerri if she wanted to join the team. This was her big opportunity! What did Kerri do?

She said, "I told her, 'No.'  "

Three decades later, Kerri explains that decision this way. "I was so scared. I'd never played softball before. I'd never played any organized sport before! So I didn't know anything about the game. I didn't know the rules or how to play. All I could think about was how I would fail because I didn't know how. It never occurred to me they could teach me those things. So I just said no."

And the remorse didn't take long to set in. She said, "I was so sad. I kept going to the games and watching them play. But there were times I had to wipe away tears, hoping no one had seen me cry. I so wanted to be out on that field. It's a decision I still regret."

And that event kicked off a lifetime of what Kerri now sees as missed opportunities. Her fear of failure kept her from succeeding at all kinds of new things. Sometimes it kept her from trying in the first place, like the singing lessons she never took or the new job she never applied for. And sometimes, that fear made her quit soon after starting. In fact, she recalls a failed attempt at gymnastics. She said, "I hadn't been in the class for long, and we were learning how to do the splits. One of the coaches said that if we couldn't get all the way down, they would push us the rest of the way. And that kind of scared me. So, I never went back. And somehow, my parents never challenged that decision. So that was the end of my gymnastics career."

But one of Kerri's more memorable successes was in learning to waterski. A friend had invited her to ski. But when it was Kerri's turn, she was too afraid to even get in the water, despite the fact that she could swim perfectly fine and had a life jacket on. Well, after a few minutes of grace and ineffective coaxing, her girlfriend's father literally pushed her off the boat. Well, Kerri Whitfield learned to ski that day. And the next time, she jumped off the boat by herself.

But it probably wasn't until she had children of her own that Kerri finally decided her insecurities would no longer impact her or her family. And she shares these stories with her son and daughter to help them have the courage to try new things.

And looking back, there are three lessons she thinks she learned. "First," she explained, "I wished I'd shared my desires more openly with my parents. Maybe then they could have encouraged me to play softball.

Second, I wish I'd understood then that I didn't have to be the best at everything on the first day. Everyone has to learn, even the experts. If I'd known that, I might have gone back for the second day of gymnastics class.

Third, I learned that part of life is getting unexpectedly wet. Because sometimes good parenting means pushing you off the boat."

So, if your children are afraid to try new things, share this story with them. Point out the long-term regret Kerri suffered as a result of those decisions. And the three conclusions she came to after a lifetime of letting hear fear control her. It's bound to lead to a productive discussion that will help them find more courage the next time they have an opportunity to try something new.

Here are some questions to get you started with that discussion with your child.

  1. Can you recall two or three things you tried but gave up on soon after? What were they? Is it too late to try again?

  2. Name something you'd like to do now but have been afraid to try.

  3. How long do you think it takes for people to get really good at something new, like learning to play the guitar or throw a baseball or write poetry?

  4. Can you think of something some people are just naturally good at without having to learn and practice?

Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about finding the courage to stand up for something you believe in.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith