Q. My son is failing a few classes in middle school. Teachers say it is mostly lack of effort like not doing his homework. I’ve taken away his cell phone and video games, but it hasn’t helped much. He plays soccer and is very good at it, good enough to possibly play after high school. The teachers have suggested I take that away until his grades improve, but I can’t do that. It’s like taking away his future and it will crush him. What to do?
There are a lot of things that can truly crush a child: abuse, bullying, and death in the family to name a few. Not playing soccer probably doesn’t make the list.
What is also not on the list at this point in his life — but will very much take a high spot later on — is failure: failure to acquire a basic education, failure to earn a diploma, and failure to learn responsibility. One of your tasks as a parent is to ensure that the pain of overcoming those failures is felt now, while he is young and can still do something about it, not when he is 22 and jobless.
Parents of the most successful students generally make decisions based on what will help the child become a quality adult, not a happy child. To accomplish this, you must first prioritize: what is the most important thing you want him to attain for adulthood?
For me, it was for my children to become individuals of strong faith and high character. For some, it may be to acquire a sound education and a successful job. It looks like for you it is for him to become a great soccer player.
If that’s the case, you’ll probably need to push a lot harder. According to a 2016 USA Today article, the chances of a high school soccer player making it to the pros is 1 in 5,768. That’s actually a lot better than the odds of playing in the NBA (1 in 11,771), but not as good as making it to the NFL (1 in 4,233). If that sounds doable to you, consider that your odds of dying in a fatal car accident are a mere 1 in 113, yet you probably still drive on the interstate.
So I’m tellin’ ya there’s a chance. Unfortunately there’s a much higher chance that his current bad habits will cripple his future if you allow them to become entrenched. Exerting the effort to pass school is an endeavor that gives students crucial traction toward becoming responsible, productive adults. Failing to do so achieves the opposite results. This is why the parents of the most successful students hold their children accountable for it, even if it means making the children temporarily disgruntled in the process.
So consider the possibility that responsibility and an education are two acquisitions that may be of greater lifelong importance than dribbling and heading. If that’s true, then pulling him from the team to focus on them is an easy call, especially since you’ve already taken away his phone and video games. At the very least, give him an ultimatum: all passing grades by the next marking period, or he’s off the team.
If you put first things first, you often get second things, too. It’s possible that by yanking him from the team you’ll make him a better student, a better person, and, surprisingly, a better soccer player. He’ll surely gain a stronger work ethic and a better ability to focus on what’s important. He might then earn his way back on the team. From there, who knows? He might just beat the odds and go pro, but he’ll do so as a responsible role model instead of another entitled, self-indulgent athlete.
One of my saddest days as a parent was watching my seventh grade son walk out to the field to tell his football coach that his father was making him quit the team because of low grades. But my son and I had a deal: make C’s or better and you can play. But if you can’t meet that bar because you’re being irresponsible, the extracurricular stuff has to go.
I still get teary thinking of that day. But then I look at him now as a college student who works diligently at a part-time job, and I feel better. True, he might have missed his opportunity to be the next Cam Newton. But what matters most in an individual isn’t what he can do with his arms and legs. It’s who he is in his heart and spirit.
Coaches often say “no pain, no gain.” It’s true in parenting, too. The right thing to do is usually the hardest thing to do. But the joy of seeing your child become a high character adult far surpasses the fleeting possibility of rearing an all-star athlete.