May 4, 2004 | Commentary on Family and Marriage

Coaching for life

My first order of business upon arriving at the track meet was to find Nick.

From my perch on the metal bleachers, I craned my neck to scan the vast field to search for my son. Like multi-colored confetti blowing in the wind, the colorful array of school uniforms and constant movement of the scores of athletes warming up for the various events made it a real challenge to locate him. "OK," I thought, "I'll never find him this way. I should look for the motions characteristic of his first event."

I changed my focus and began scanning for movements associated with the long jump. Across the field and to the left, I spotted a steady stream of tiny figures streaming swiftly for a brief distance and then lifting into the air. Within seconds a familiar physique caught my eye as it sprinted down the short track and took flight. I had found my son.

It didn't take long to make the decision to cross the field and find a better vantage point for watching him compete. Within a couple of minutes, I arrived at a small strip of grass next to the track - just in time for Nick to make another practice run. As other athletes warmed-up nearby, the morning air was punctuated with last minute tips from coaches and teammates, "Measure your steps," one said. "Don't forget to look for your mark," yelled another.

But I knew the last-minute coaching alone would not determine the day's champions. It was the months of intense training - the sweat, the countless hours of running, of lifting weights and practicing techniques that would define the winners of the day. The precise steps, careful pacing, measured approach, angle of the jump, and strength of the body were skills and assets that could not be mastered at the last minute.

As I proudly watched the tall, muscular, disciplined young man that had once been the helpless little baby cradled in my arms, it dawned on me that my most important role in life has been as Nick's coach. No, not the coach who taught him the skills necessary to do his very best in the long and high jump - but the coach who has concentrated on teaching him the skills necessary to do his very best in life.

Correction: The coach who is still teaching him how to stand up for what is right, about the importance of loyalty and friendship, about the joy of giving to others, about the virtues of hard work and sacrifice, that truth must never be compromised, and about the absolute necessity of choosing whom he will serve - God, or man.

I thought about the utter futility of the last-minute efforts of some parents who - like the exhausted, whipped coach at the end of a losing season - have grown weary of fighting the culture and relinquished their roles as trainers, passing off the responsibility of daily "training" their teens to school teachers, the media or their drifting peers.

My time at the track-meet on that warm, breezy spring morning was a poignant reminder that parenting is not a "sometimes" profession. It is not my prerogative to give-up, tire-out or pass-up the responsibility to seize every day as a day to coach my children in the values and virtues I know will establish them both productive members of society, and as individual souls who will eternally live with the decisions they make and the love they share.

Yes, parents should enthusiastically give last-minute reminders to children before milestone events in their lives - reminders like "Measure your steps" and "Don't forget to look for your mark" are crucial. But, just like the words of a coach on the day of the big meet, our advice in those key moments will be truly effective only if they are based on a foundation of character development to which we had committed ourselves day-in and day-out throughout childhood.

If this column finds you realizing you are arriving by your child's side late in the game, please don't give up. Seize every minute, find reinforcements, gather all the resources you can and quickly establish your family in faith, in church and in open communications.

Reclaim your role as parent through admitting both your past failures and your new resolve to coach your child in unconditional principles and unconditional love. Never forget that just as the prime of youth is fleeting, so are the years in which we have the marvelous opportunity to mold our children's hearts.

Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of the Heritage Foundation, a research and educational think-tank whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense. She is also the former vice president of communications for WorldNetDaily and her 60-second radio commentaries can be heard on the Salem Communications Network.

About the Author

Rebecca Hagelin Senior Communications Fellow

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