Champions Take Risks

By Nancy Justis, Iowa Youth Sports Initiative

There are plenty of unique abilities that separate the champion from everyone else, in sports and in life. Champions set themselves apart by giving more and enduring more than those around them. They have an uncommon desire and commitment to their own improvement. They've developed the ability to navigate the challenges and adversity that inevitably come with pursuing greatness in any area, and do it with a positive, productive attitude. They are set apart in many ways. When you really dig deep to uncover what makes a champion a champion, you also find that champions have developed the courage required to take risks – to go out on the limb where greatness is found. I want to encourage you to see clearly today – if you're serious about helping your child become their very best, on the playing field and beyond – how important cultivating that courage is.

The truth is – for all of us, including our kids – there will always be an element of risk involved in doing anything big and important. Physical risk, maybe, but I'm talking more today about the mental and emotional risks that come with facing our fears and seizing our opportunities. If you stop and think about the defining achievements of your life or career, I'm confident there were some risks you were required to take (and some fear you were required to overcome) to get there. Unfortunately, like all of us, you also probably have some moments in your story where you didn't step up and take a risk you should have, and now probably regret it. Looking back, it's easy to see that some things in life we only get one chance to experience. The same will be true for our kids.

Looking back, it's easy to see that some things in life we only get one chance to experience.
The same will be true for our kids.

Experience is of course a required part of any learning process, and developing the ability to take risks is no different. Just as your missed opportunities may have taught you some valuable lessons about the place regret has in your life (and the place you don't want it to have moving forward), your child will also have to learn some lessons the hard way. That's why they say experience is the best teacher. Your child will have to live and learn, experience some regret for themselves, and come to understand the value of taking risks like we all do. It's just part of the process.

At the same time, I want to encourage you to do more than just sit back and let your child live and learn. Take an active role in cultivating your kid's courage, too. Experience may be the best teacher, but as a parent, you are a close second. The more you intentionally commit to teaching, training, and equipping your child in this area before his or her big moments come, the more prepared they'll be to seize what's in front of them, and the less likely they'll have to learn the hard lessons that come with regret.

Here are three practical ways to help your child develop their risk-taking...

1. Encourage courage... As often as possible, lovingly and confidently push your child into new, challenging experiences that demand their courage. Obviously, I'm not talking about anything dangerous or unhealthy, but I am talking about opportunities for them to overcome their fear and experience some bravery for themselves. Usually when that happens, they come to realize that the fear and worry they created in their minds was just an illusion, and that the rewards for facing their fear far outweigh the regret the comes with not trying.

Talk to your child about the value of healthy risk-taking and the place it has in a successful life. Share some of your stories – both the proud ones and the regretful ones – and help clarify for him or her what they taught you about the role risk has played in your life. After all you've learned, what is it that drives you and your decisions, and what it is you hope will drive theirs? There are plenty of productive answers to that question, but fear isn't one of them.

2. Marginalize failure... At the heart of the risk that comes with doing anything big and important is the fear of failure. Especially in sports, the fear of losing or looking bad is enough to keep many athletes from really, truly competing. They'd rather cling to the trunk of the tree that venture out on the limb. Going "all in" and then failing is too big a risk to take, so playing it safe and accepting less than their best becomes the most viable option.

This is a formula for regret. It's a lie – that playing it safe is the better way to go – a lie perpetuated by losers, sometimes even by the loser that exists inside us, and probably by the one speaking lies in your child. You are responsible for strengthening and developing your inner champion, and helping your child do the same. Your inner champion recognizes that the pursuit of greatness is worth the possibility of failure. That trying and failing is better than not trying at all. And that regret stinks. Your child needs to be empowered by that truth, too. Even if they fail, celebrate their willingness to take a risk, regardless of the outcome.

3. Model the behavior... As with all winning behavior, the most effective way to cultivate healthy risk-taking in the life of your child is to show them how it's done. You can talk about the place courage has in a successful life until you're blue in the face, but your words will never have the kind of impact your example will. I believe that champions breed champions. That means the more you choose to courageously live the life of a champion yourself, the more champion-minded you help your child become, too.

If you're serious about helping your child become their best, then you've got to see the important role risk-taking will play in their experience. You can of course ignore the work it takes to help them get better in this important area, and hope they figure it out on their own. But that, I can assure you, is a risk that's not worth taking.