Being the father of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. At MomsTEAM we think sports dads deserve to be honored, not just on the third Sunday in June, but for an entire month. So we have designated June as National Sports Dads Month and invited some veteran sports dads to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions (the same ones we asked sports moms in May).
So far this month we have heard from a wide array of sports dads, from a former Major League Baseball general manager, from a Minnesota hockey coach and safety advocate to a sociologist with an expertise in gender and sports.
Today we hear from former water skiing great and founder of Growing Champions for Life, David Benzel:
MomsTEAM: Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)?
Benzel: I played a little baseball and then pursued swimming through high school.
MomsTEAM: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports dad?
Benzel:The most rewarding part of being a sports dad is actually being enjoyed now in the post-youth sport years due to the fact that I changed my approach ... thank goodness for all involved! I was pretty intense in the early years and inadvertently took some of the fun out of sports for my two kids. Fortunately, I learned - ever so gradually - to back off and play my role more effectively. As a result my kids started coming to me more and more for important conversations and advice. They both made it to a professional level in their respective sports and are now in their mid to late twenties. The meaningful conversations we have now are priceless.
MomsTEAM: What lesson has your sports active child taught you?
Benzel: The most important lesson is that the whole experience belongs to them. As I learned to give up more and more control they stood ready to assume more and more control. In fact, if I didn't give it up they were going to take it away anyway. I'm glad they were so assertive because I would have regretted cheating them out of the experience of personal responsibility for their successes and their lessons.
MomsTEAM: What is the most important lesson your child is learning from his/her sport?
Benzel: My children have learned the difference between ineffective and effective coaching, and the difference between ego-driven and others-driven coaching. They are determined to stay focused on the growth and development of the total person they coach, not just the "x's" and "o's".
MomsTEAM: If you could "flip a switch" and change one thing about the culture of youth sports what would it be?
Benzel: Conditioning would never be used as a punishment or negative consequence. It would be given as a gift only to those who worked the hardest, showed the most commitment, and stayed aligned with the core values of the team. Running laps and push-ups would then become a coveted opportunity. That's a paradigm shift that's long overdue.
MomsTEAM: Brag a little. What have you done to make sports better for kids? Please share.
Benzel: We formed a non-profit organization called Growing Champions for Life, which is dedicated to improving the youth sport experience by providing practical strategies and positive tools to parents and coaches. We want to create healthy teams, cohesive families, and principle-centered athletes. Our work with state and national governing bodies, as well as local clubs in soccer, gymnastics, figure skating, volleyball, and tennis, has confirmed the value of teaching a new way of thinking about how adults can best influence children through the sports experience.
David Benzel is the Founder and President of Growing Champions for Life and the author of two books, From Chump to Champ - How Individuals Go From Good to Great and 5 Powerful Strategies for Sport Parent Success. He is an eight-time National Water Ski Champion, former coach of the U.S. Water Ski Team, and recipient of the Award of Distinction from the Water Ski Hall of Fame, and has served as a commentator on ESPN for the X Games and the Professional Water Ski Tour. You can like David on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @David Benzel.