Sports: Is it all about Winning?

OK all you sports fans out there. The annual late November long-weekend football marathon –accompanied by ginormous helpings of turkey and apple pie –is over. For me, there’s an even bigger watershed moment here. After 22 years of watching my children play soccer, I’m hanging up my parental cleats. So, as I ride into the sporting sunset, I have a question for all you sports parents out there. And those of you who play or played sports too. What’s it all about: Building Skills? Learning Teamwork? Winning? All of the above?

Sometimes it seems like you gotta choose one camp or another. I have been a soccer mom for 22 years (I still wince at those words but it’s true). And I have seen parents face off in debates about this dozens of times.

What’s my position? Well here are a few little anecdotes for you.

Equal Playing Time vs Winning

When my daughter was about ten years old she played on a neighborhood American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) team. One of AYSO’s guiding principles is that every player must play at least half the game. My daughter’s coach translated this into “equal playing time for everyone.” That year, that team was reeeeeeally bad. Saturday after Saturday they were trounced by their opponents. The girls left with heads hanging a little lower each week. Finally, the season finale was underway and lo and behold, they were winning! The girls on the sidelines were jumping up and down with excitement and crossing their fingers across their chests to lend luck to their teammates on the field. Everyone knew the best players were out on the turf. There were five minutes to go. We were holding on to a one-goal lead. Then….the coach changed lines. Out with the strong; in with the weak. I was shocked and horrified. I gathered up my things and walked away. What would you do? Footnote: The team hung on to win.

Some Playing Time…Any Playing Time

Let’s move on to college level sports. When you get to that elite level, every player has talent. So do you give every player some playing time? Or so you go with your subset of core superstar players exclusively? Sportswriter Frank DeFord just did a piece that’s on a slightly different topic but has relevance here. He argues that college athletics should be about participant experience rather than spectator experience. And I think this has some merit. I’m not talking about equal playing time. But about acknowledging the reason most athletes sign up for a team – to participate. If I were the coach, I would let everyone play, especially in low pressure situations where the likelihood of blowing the game is small. You can always sub out. And what are amateur sports all about?

What Do We Want Sports To Teach Our Kids?

The reality is every sporting situation has its own unique facts. The right decision in one case might not be the right decision in another. But here are some lessons I have learned along the way.

  • Winning feels good. It teaches your child that all the hard work they put in has a payoff. It spurs them to try hard. And when they win, it is a time to celebrate. In that after-the-victory moment, the good times roll.
  • Winning isn’t everything. And it isn’t an all-the-time kind of thing. Each of my kids has had at least one miserable, loss-after-loss season. They played just as hard and were individually just as good on these bad teams. But sometimes, everything doesn’t come together. And that is OK too. A bad season is not something to celebrate (I am not a fan of trophies just for showing up and trying). And kids are generally not cheerful about losing. But they learn to accept it. And look forward to next season. They realize that’s sports. And that’s life.
  • Losing all the time is not fun or productive. I have noticed that for each of my daughters, when they reach a level of competition that is higher than their ability, they transfer their energies into something else where they can be more successful. I think that is also a good lesson. As my boss always says, “There are 31 flavors. Find yours.”
  • Teamwork is hard but it pays off in spades. I shake my head when adults talk about the team aspect of sports as though it’s one big warm fuzzy. My experience is that team is not an effortless lovefest where all the players agree, are selfless, and care for each other. Inevitably there are personality clashes, rivalries, coaches’ pets, etc. Developing a strong team takes effort. But the hard work pays off throughout life – in school, in jobs, in marriages, and friendships.

There is definitely room for debate on this.

Do you think sports are good for kids? If so, what should they be getting out of it?

Giving Thanks for the Boulder Food Project

Hana Dansky has done a lot of digging to find out the general landscape when it comes to food production and consumption. She is not happy with what she’s found. She states it succinctly: we put “10 percent of our national energy budget, 50 percent of our land use, and 80 percent of our freshwater resources into food, truck it around the country, and then end up throwing away nearly 40 percent of everything we produce, much of which is still edible and healthy.” At the same time, there are hungry people everywhere.

Saying No to Waste

Hana is putting her body and soul into changing that. She and a small group of friends have started The Boulder Food Rescue. They go around to grocery stores around Boulder picking up food that is slated for the garbage heap and redistributing it to organizations that serve food to the poor. In the last four years, the Boulder Food Rescue has grown to include 150 volunteers who do food pickups ten times each day. They are able to save 1000 pounds of food each day and get it into the mouths of those who don’t have other access to healthy food – people in low-income housing, homes for the elderly, preschools and after school programs.

Sharing Food in Community

The Boulder Food Rescue also values community. It is not just about giving to those who have less but sharing in community with them. Once a month, volunteers host a meal – they share with their guests the cooking and the eating.

Their work has inspired others. Their model is being put to work in cities across the country that collaborate through the Food Rescue Alliance.

Want to Get Involved? Learn more at or

The Thankful Book and Thelonius Turkey Lives!

New and Fabulous

(2012) The Thankful Book by Todd Parr takes the idea of being thankful down to the level a small child can understand. It reminds me of all the times I’ve squatted down when I am talking to a tiny tike so that I can look into their eyes and see what they’re thinking – which are usually incredibly imaginative thoughts. The Thankful Book walks through many things that probably go through a child’s mind every day – how they look, why they eat what they eat, and so on.

One of my favorites: “I am thankful for my shadow because it makes me look taller.” The illustrations remind me a bit of the Peanuts crew – wild hair and simple but expressive faces. A book pegged for preschool-1st grade, I think you will find a great opportunity for thought and discussion tailored to your own child’s experience.

Oldie but Goodie

Thelonius Turkey Lives! By Lynn Rowe Reed is sure to have your kids in giggles. Thelonius is the only turkey left on his farm and Thanksgiving is approaching. Thelonius is worried that Felicia the farmer is planning his demise. So he concocts all sorts of wacky roadblocks to thwart her. Only to find out…this wasn’t what she had in mind at all! A fun romp with a happy ending. Pegged for Preschool-2nd grade.


Do you have other thanksgiving books to recommend?

Thanks with Giving

I generally pride myself on being one of those strong mothers – you know, the ones who spend quality time with their children each day, delight in their kids’ successes, and talk through their problems BUT expect them to do their own laundry, make their own lunches, and write their own papers.

I also have been the kind of mother who wants to give her kids the best of everything life has to offer. This includes homey experiences like making playdough (click here for the recipe), chowing down on popcorn while taking in a movie on TV, or spending an afternoon at the local ice skating rink. So, OK, a cup of Swiss Miss hot cocoa seems reasonable and fun in the warming house. But a post ice-skating trip to Starbucks for a peppermint hot chocolate? Make that a grande, not a tall. And while we’re here can we get some of those great looking $2 per cookie treats to take home? A “No” on my part is met with a whiny “Pleeeez” or a pout. At this point, the joy of ice skating is a distant memory and I am asking myself “How did this happen?” More important, how can I, or any of us, keep it from happening on a regular basis?

We live in a materialistic world. Though there are many wonderful things about the technology revolution, one of the big downsides is the 24/7 exposure to advertisements. When I was a kid, I coveted the latest Barbie advertised on TV. But I also spent a lot of time playing with toys and running around outside, completely removed from ads. Very hard to do with the bombardment of popup ads and celebrity sales pitches on cellphones, computers and tablets. Along with that, has come the proliferation of specialty shops. I never cease to be amazed at the round-the-block lines in cities around the country for a customized cupcake or scoop of ice cream. When the holidays approach, the whole obsession with things goes into high gear. We want to give our children things that will make them happy. But, if you’re like me, you cringe at the extravagant wish lists.

What to do?

You Can’t Buy Happiness

This is the good news. Research is clear that reining in consumption is not depriving your kids of happiness. And chances are you have your own informal evidence. Has your kid ever begged for a toy but once he has it, plays with it for a few minutes then moves on to something else? It turns out, the research shows, long-term happiness is related to what you do for others, not what you ask others to do for you.

Create Opportunities to Give

So here’s my thought. Instead of spending so much time this holiday season stressing over the latest and greatest toy or outfit you can buy your kid, maybe spend time with him talking about things he is thankful for. Then create opportunities for her to give to others. Some ideas for activities for your child – what’s appropriate will vary with age:

  • Pick out and deliver a gift for a child at an orphanage or shelter
  • Instead of buying a gift to give away, decorate a large “giving box” and keep it in a prominent place where your child can place toys they have outgrown and now choose to give away
  • Make holiday greetings cards for family and friends
  • Bake holiday treats to give to family and friends
  • Volunteer at a food pantry or, if your child is too young, allow her to choose canned food and have an outing with you to deliver it
  • If your family likes to host parties, give your party a theme of giving. Socks or winter caps. Then give them away – and include your child in the planning.

It All Begins with Thanksgiving

Here we are at Thanksgiving. A wonderful time to get started talking to your child about what they are thankful for. A great time to create energy around ideas for giving back.

One more thing. After the giving and receiving is done, don’t forget the thank yous. Thank you notes are great. Emails are nice too. Also shouts of thanks over the telephone. And in-person hugs and kisses. Enjoy!

Added perk: Your child will be on the receiving end of lots of thank yous from those they give to!

Do you have other ideas for giving projects?

Painting for Peace in Ferguson

When the grand jury announced that it would not indict Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, anger spilled over into the streets in Ferguson and nearby St. Louis. Windows were smashed, fires started. The owner of a St. Louis café watched from her home across the street as the nine windows of her restaurant shattered to the ground.

Reaching Out

Later that night she began the process of boarding up the spaces where the glass had been. The ugliness was jarring. So she asked some friends to help her splash on a little colored paint to relieve the despair.

Word spread. By morning, artists began to assemble. Within a few days, hundreds of artists came together to revitalize the look of the storefronts. Suppliers from around the country got in on the act, donating paint and other materials. Hundreds of paintings now grace the area with colorful vitality and messages of hope.

Finding Common Ground

This coming together to change destruction into something positive has had a healing effect on both the artists and the business owners. One resident noted, “It was a great relief for them to feel that they were part of building us back up. I felt the opposite — that they were helping us heal.”

It doesn’t end there. This year, planning is underway for a Ferguson Mural Project. The website characterizes the project this way: it “will integrate personal stories to create empathy, make meaning and effect real change by giving the community an opportunity to heal and beautify Ferguson’s downtown.”

The project will be documented from beginning to end – a tool for spreading the movement across the country.

Interested in getting involved? Learn more at

Painting for Peace in Ferguson and The Little Bit Scary People

New and Fabulous

Painting for Peace in Ferguson by Carol Swartout Klein is a great tool for parents wanting to discuss with their children the unrest in Ferguson Missouri and other cities around the country. The book does not go into the details of the rioting itself. Instead it focuses on the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds to rebuild through art.

By the time I got to the last pages of this picture book, I felt the power of the mosaic of paintings – a statement of community and healing that defies the desolation of the boarded up windows on which they are painted. Recommended for kids 6 and up.

Another Not-so-Oldie but Goodie

So I’m breaking the mold a little here with a not-so-oldie but certainly a goodie.

The Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins follows a little girl as she watches people that act different than she does…and are a little bit scary. But, she knows, if you were to visit these people at home, you would see they are actually nice…and not even a little bit scary. Maybe still a little bit different in how they do things. But underneath it all, not so different really.

This is a simple book that gives us characters that look and sound an awful lot like people we know. I think that is what makes the book so effective (and comforting). As the little girl in the story concludes, they are people, just like her… not really scary at all. Recommended for ages K-3rd grade.

Share books you recommend on the revitalizing power of empathy.

I Feel Ya

This has been a spirit-crushing week. Foremost in my mind, is the bloodbath in Paris. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the dead and wounded, and to all Parisians.

My heart has also been heavy as I’ve followed the racial conflict at the University of Missouri and my alma mater, Yale. The anger and alienation around the world is palpable, even as I sit writing in a small quiet town in Montana.

But feeling bad or even feeling solidarity is not enough. How can we respond in a way that makes a difference?

Start with the children: Teach empathy

We can start with our children. We can start by teaching empathy.

On a rain-drenched day last fall, a wheelchair-bound student struggled mightily to open the door to his high school. He eventually did get in. But it took a while. He was soaked. And he was beside himself with frustration. Right then and there he decided he wasn’t going through this experience anymore. The school told him, if he could raise the money for an automatic door, they would install it.

He did raise the money. And then some. All very admirable. But in reading about this, my attention was drawn to the way he went about it. The rules: For every $20 raised, one of his fellow students had to spend a day in a wheelchair. So now his classmates got a glimpse of life through his eyes. They experienced the feelings of life from a wheelchair. Now, they could feel why the automatic door was so important. He was looking to raise $40,000. He ended up raising $87,000. Empathy – being able to share another person’s feelings – is a powerful thing. It can change lives, even whole societies. The question is how do you raise empathetic kids without the wheelchair?

There’s an article out of Harvard that sums it up quite well, I think. Five keys (annotated here with some stories from my own life).

Be an Empathy Role Model

Living in a big city, my daily routines often take me past people on the street asking for money. It is easy to see these people as “other” (if we see them at all). They don’t look like us. They don’t have the same kind of daily activities that we do. It is hard for any of us – parents or children – to put ourselves in their shoes.

When my girls were little, I used to give them quarters to pass along to the homeless, explaining that these people were hungry. My children knew what their own stomachs felt like when they were hungry for dinner. This gave them empathy. Now I know this is a hot topic – some people believe in giving to beggars; others are vehemently against it. Whatever your philosophy, you can model empathy simply by not ignoring the situation and talking about ways you believe in to help the hungry.

Set High Expectations around Caring for Others

Having friends over after school was always great fun for my girls. But sometimes that first visit with a new friend needed an icebreaker. I have found that 99% of the time, food is a great way to get things going. So we would start with snacks. And always let the new guest choose – which sometimes meant making chocolate chip cookies when my daughter would have preferred peanut butter ones.

Here’s an example of how it played out: A little pout from my daughter, the hostess. We talk about that. How do you feel when you are the new kid? Doesn’t getting to choose the snack make you feel a lot better? She sighs. Nods. She knows the feeling. OK. Chocolate chip it is.

Draw a Big Circle of People to Care For

Care for others. This includes: Care for your family. Care for your friends. Care for your schoolmates – even those who don’t act like you or do the same things you do. Care for the ones who talk different. Or look different.

As your kid gets bigger, the circle gets bigger. Bigger kids can care for people they don’t know. Middle-schoolers can volunteer at a soup kitchen or a home for the elderly. High-schoolers can participate in a foreign exchange program or sign up for an internship summer in a part of the US that is new to them – city folks with rural communities; small town folks with inner-city families. Care for others.

Work Through Negative Feelings Toward Others

There are always going to be people your child just doesn’t want to be around. There was a girl in my third grade class who I thought was recklessly wild. She thought I was Miss Goody Two Shoes. So she picked at me, trying to get a rise. It worked. I was angry and upset.

My teacher was on to us. One lunchtime she sat us down and we talked about how we felt. We still didn’t like each other. But once we had aired our feelings, we had an understanding. The teasing stopped. And that was enough.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is not easy. Not for kids. Not for grownups. But like a lot of other things, we can keep getting better at it if we practice. Sometimes, there will be a wheelchair to help us empathize. Sometimes we have to look a little deeper to find common ground. The more we practice, the easier it gets.

Share your stories of teaching children empathy.

Bilingualism for Peace

Language is the key to understanding one another, right? Put another way by the writer Margaret Atwood, “War is what happens when language fails.”

Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education

Called the “Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education,” the Israel-based organization is a network of five schools (a sixth school was burned to the ground by arsonists) where classes are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic. The Hand in Hand goal is to create 15 more schools over the next ten years.

Why are they so excited? Because they see education as a game-changer like no other solution yet advanced. One Palestinian parent living in Israel and serving on the Hand in Hand schools team explained, “The kids get to interact with each other on the human ground. They get to know each other first on a personal level. They get to know that they have so many common things.” (

A recent newspaper article about Hand in Hand’s reaction to the recent escalation in Arab-Jewish violence says that students are apprehensive about the dangers they face in simply traveling to and from school. But the article reports, these Jewish and Arab children are brave and determined “to not be satisfied by the daily act of arriving to school as a response to this period of violence, but to go out from its protective walls to initiate social and civic engagement in an attempt to end the violence.”

Read more about the bravery and commitment of the students; and follow Hand and Hand as they grow:

Do you know of other organizations using bilingualism to bring people together? Share here!

Viva Frida and Abuela

New and Fabulous

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales is breathtakingly beautiful. Each illustration is saturated with soft but luminous color. The illustrations are the heart of the book. There are only a couple of words on each page, and these words are printed in both English and Spanish. For children who have had no prior Spanish at all, the book offers a very basic introduction to a few phrases. But I think to get the most out of the book, the adult reader needs to guide the child with questions about what the child is seeing. The book is pegged for 4-8 year olds. I think you can have a very good read with any child who has enough language to articulate his/her thoughts.

Oldie but Goodie

Abuela by Arthur Dorros. Recommended for ages 3-7 . This book was a favorite for my children when they were young. Abuela tells the story of a little girl and her grandma (abuela means grandmother in Spanish) as they take the bus around New York City. While out and about, the girl lets her imagination take her and her abuela flying up into the sky, seeing the sights in a totally new and magical way. Spanish words and phrases are woven into the text in a way that enhances the story and does not feel like a language lesson.

Note: I have found very few Chinese/English bilingual books. This appears to be a niche that is currently under-filled. I’ve heard about one series called Gordon and Li Li that sounds very cute. It tells the story of cousins, one in New York and the other in Beijing. Each page has one word in both languages.

What did you think of these books? Do you have other bilingual books to recommend?

Learning Languages: It’s A Small World After All

Some years ago, when my three children were in various stages of elementary school, my sister and I decided to pack our up our broods for a fun-in-the-sun vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But before we could head to the white sand beaches, we had to pass through security.

Now, the inspection was really quite perfunctory. But it was in Spanish. I greeted the customs agent with an “Hola” and a smile and then strained to understand the question he asked in response. As I stumbled through a “Lo siento” with a totally confused expression on my face, and he repeated himself in a slower version of the same Spanish (which I still did not understand), my eldest daughter jumped in and answered in perfect Spanish. The agent smiled and nodded and we were on our way to the beach. Yessss! Score one for bilingual education.

I should mention that I do speak broken French and, though I am not fluent, I do make a go at it when in France. So many Americans complain about the snobbishness of the French people. Not me. They may look at me with a cocked head and an amused smile but most of all I have found an almost universal appreciation for my attempts at Francais.

So that’s part of it. Better vacations. But there are a lot of other – arguably more important – reasons to learn more than one language.

Bilingualism Gives You A Leg Up in the Global Economy

“It’s the economy, stupid.” We have lots of pressing issues to think about but this one sucker-punches us over and over again. Unemployment, stock market woes, the housing crisis. You name it. And, nowadays, it’s not just about what’s going on here at home. We are part of a “global economy.” What happens in Greece affects all of Europe which, in turn, affects the U.S. Foreign-owned companies provide jobs here and American-owned businesses have offices around the world. Many of my friends travel overseas for work without thinking twice – it’s just part of the job. And – as reported in US News and World Report – those who speak another language have a greater chance of succeeding in business.

It wasn’t always this way. I remember once watching my father take off from O’Hare Airport for a business meeting in New York. The whole family was there for the sendoff, my sisters and I pressing our faces against the windows in the terminal, awed that Papa had such important business that he had to fly on an airplane to NEW YORK. Flash forward a few decades and I’m struck by a TV commercial of a little girl and her father sending videos to one another as he conducts business overseas.

Projections are, the trend toward international business is only going to get bigger. Our kids will probably live in an even more fluid world where doing business in Beijing or Mumbai or Sao Paolo is par for the course. With that, knowing a second (or third or fourth) language may be a make-or-break skill.

Bilingualism Makes you Smarter

So, what else? Well, it looks like knowing multiple languages makes you smarter. There is research out there that links bilingualism to better memory, more effective multi-tasking and (looking down the road) better resistance to dementia giving us a better shot at actually having happy golden years. Have I got your attention? ☺

Bilingualism Builds Friendships

And then there are friendships. Some of the parties I went to in college looked like the United Nations – students with ancestry from China, Japan, Russia, Ghana, Mexico, Italy, and on and on. We built a language bank around the word “Hello” in every language we could think of. And we had a blast exchanging greetings. We felt pride in sharing our backgrounds of origin and exhilaration in the new bond with one another through our shared language.

When and How?

You may have heard – learn a language young or else…. A version of “use it or lose it.” But there are studies that conclude it is never too late to learn. So, if your children’s elementary school starts them off young – great! And, more and more schools are teaching a foreign language in elementary grades. But even if this is not the case at your school, you can jumpstart your kids to love learning languages – and they can become fluent later. When my kids were little, the kitchen was a tangle of tags I pasted onto fridge, stove, sink, and cupboards, identifying Spanish names for these objects. Though I wasn’t fluent, we had many great times sprinkling these words into our discussions. I think those good feelings are part of why my kids continued in their Spanish studies.

I’ll end with this. An old-time philosopher said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

Do you have stories about the power of languages in your life?