3 Ways My Parents Got Sports Parenting Right

As my own children become more active in sports, I find myself reflecting on the exceptional job my parents did in fostering my love for basketball and instilling in me a strong work ethic. Sports were a unifying force in our family, never a source of division. Here are the three key lessons I learned from my parents I hope to emulate:

1. Share Your Passion

One of my favorite traditions that stands out in my memory is the ritual my father and I shared before every basketball season. We would bond over two inspiring movies, The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend and Hoosiers. These films conveyed powerful messages about determination, teamwork, and the pursuit of dreams. However, what made the experience truly impactful was my father's genuine enthusiasm and excitement for the upcoming season. 

My father never pressured me into playing basketball, but he enthusiastically shared his own passion for the game and his own stories as an athlete. And through my entire career, while I knew he wanted me to do well, I never felt my father's disappointment when I performed poorly. Instead, I remember his joy in witnessing me play a game he loved.

2. Recognize Sports as a Privilege

While my parents enjoyed watching me play basketball, they also instilled in me the understanding that sports were a privilege. They set high academic standards for me, emphasizing that all As and Bs was a reasonable standard. I can still recall the deep disappointment in sixth grade I felt when my grades slipped and I had to sit out the most significant game of the year. My parents made it clear to me and my coach that I had failed to fulfill my academic responsibilities. 

The following year, I faced a similar disappointment when I was temporarily removed from the football team until I improved my Latin grade to a B. It wasn't just about enforcing consequences; my mother worked tirelessly with me every night, helping me study my flashcards. While my parents supported me they also weren’t afraid to hold me accountable. 

This lesson taught me that basketball was something to be earned and appreciated. The experience not only motivated me to never let my grades slip again, but it also ignited an extraordinary work ethic within me. I no longer took the game for granted; I worked harder both in school and on the court.

3. Force Kids to Earn Opportunities

As children discover their passions and dreams in their chosen sport, it's natural for parents to want to provide every opportunity to help them be successful. My parents took a different approach throughout my career. When I was just in fourth grade, I discovered the prestigious Morgan Wooten Basketball Camp in Maryland, an eight-hour drive from our home in South Carolina. My parents recognized the value of this experience but insisted that I earn it. 

Throughout that summer, I toiled under the scorching South Carolina sun, chopping wood, clearing brush, and painting the house, all to earn the money to attend that camp. And you know what? Year after year, out of the 500 campers who participated each week, I was the lone kid seated at the front, eagerly jotting down every word uttered by the legendary Morgan Wooten during his skill demonstrations. I attended every extra 6 a.m. and evening workout I could, grateful for the opportunity and aware of the price I had paid. 

As my career progressed, my parents didn't always require me to undertake hard labor for every opportunity, but whenever they invested in vertical jump training programs, skills camps, or travel teams, I always had to contribute something. This taught me gratitude and elevated my level of commitment.

My Parents Winning Formula

My parents undoubtedly succeeded in their approach. Sports not only strengthened our family bond, but they also offered unwavering support, independent of my performance on the court. Most importantly, their parenting nurtured my intrinsic motivation, never relying on external rewards or punishments. In a world where motivation seems to be waning and entitlement is on the rise, we can all learn from their example. 

- J.P. Nerbun

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