Parent Playbook: Early Childhood Building Blocks


When the kids were little, we didn’t have two nickles to rub together.  We thought it was important for the kids to be home with a parent so, I left my career, sucked it up and we lived tight and simple.  The payoff turned out to be pretty cool.  The kids didn’t have technology, we didn’t and still have never had other than antennae tv, we had basic backyard play equipment, liked to play, get out for adventures and try new things.  There were lots of times the kids were on their own to do what kids know best, how to play, and times they would be thrown into whatever we parents were into doing.  So, they would run, climb, swing, dig, hit, dance, lift, pull up, roll, jump, throw… on their own.  And we took them hiking, biking, skating, sledding, swimming… from the time they were infants.  I wanted to expose them to anything and everything I could.  When he had opportunities to try things, we did.  If we could only watch, we watched.

In 2000, Cierra played happily on the living room floor.  Most days, we had PBS on in the morning for background interest, but during that summer, we watched the summer Olympic Games.  She was 4 years old.  As many events would be shown, we’d both casually glance at something of interest while doing other things.  I noticed though that C would stop and sit on her knees close to the screen whenever swimming came on.  I’d shake my head not getting how a preschooler could be captured by something that wasn’t “pretty” or a game or anything other than little stick figures going back and forth in a blue rectangle, but she was glued every time.  On the third day of swimming competition, parked in the same spot, there was a defining moment in her life.  At 4, she pointed at the screen, turned to look at me and said, “I’m going to do that Mommy”.  It was one of those moments that get frozen in time because there was something about it that meant something.  I could have ignored that moment.  I could have said we couldn’t afford to do anything.  I could have thought she was only a preschooler and blown off what she said.  But we didn’t.

Since she didn’t even know how to swim, I thought we should get her to a pool.  I didn’t have any ambition of her becoming an Olympian, I just thought we should let her try swimming and see if she liked it.  It made sense for all the kids to be safe around water, so there was no reason not to make this happen.  We went to the local YMCA.  I haven’t been able to keep her out of the water since.

Rick Powell fell in love with kayaking at 3 years old.  He went to the Beijing Games. Shaun White’s family took him snowboarding when he was 5.  He was obsessed with it at 6.  He’s defined competitive snowboarding.  Michael Phelps began swimming at 7 because his older sisters swam, he became the greatest Olympian of all time.  Peyton Manning played football in the yard with his dad and brothers when he was a kid and just went to the Superbowl for the third time. 

Giving children the time, space and permission to play everyday is one of the greatest gifts we can give them for it is through play children learn to develop their social, emotional, mental and physical skills- David Kittner @youthfitnessguy

Goal:  Build a base wide and strong enough to support future success.

  • Take your time and have fun with your kids.  Be Adventurous and PLAY!
  • Recognize that development is a PROCESS. Growth is incremental.  Praise their character, not outcome.
  • Use common sense, good judgment and balance
  • Love, respect and encouragement should always be present along with developmentally appropriate guidance, high expectations and standards.  At this age, everything is just being introduced so go easy.  Say, “Have fun”, “I’m glad you’re being brave and trying something new”, “What did you like about playing?”  “I love you.  It’s fun to watch you find out what makes you, the best you!”

Pre-school years

Clarity:  expose your kids to as many great experiences as you can provide them:  physical, intellectual, creative…

  • Don’t over-protect them, but allow them to try anything they might be interested in trying.  You never know… btw..being dirty, sweaty and getting bruised and cut once in awhile is definitely okay.  
  • Make it normal to try new things and develop their internal compass about whether they like something or not.
  • The wider their activity and experiences, the wider their opportunity and greater strength for success will be.
  • Expose them to fresh, whole foods from the beginning.  Nutrition is fuel for an athlete and it tastes so much better! 

 The greater the variety, the stronger their athletic base will become: 

  • Coordination
  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Agility
  • Hand/eye, body awareness
  • Basic skills like running, jumping, throwing…

 Early Elementary:  Add instructional opportunities:

 So they learn to be:  

  • Centered:  help them focus on their internal compass by asking questions about what they think, feel, what they learned, how they’d do something differently…
  • Coachable: make it normal to listen, to evaluate and apply suggestions for improvement without being overly emotional.
  • Commited:  don’t let them quit when something is hard, uncomfortable or they don’t succeed right away.  Say, “I know it’s not easy, but you’ll get better and might get it if you try again”.
  • Composed:  focus on the process of learning, be objective, not emotional, talk about their effort, attitude, and actions not outcomes or their person.
  • Competitive:  encourage them to “compete” against themselves and to improve each time they try something.  Praise their effort to win and resilience when they don’t.

 Game play:  find places for them to play games with others.

  • Rules
  • Turns
  • Playing enjoyably with others 

 Sportsmanship: introduce team sports and competing in contests.

  • Me vs. We:  help them see when something is about them doing what’s best for them, and when they need to do what’s best for the team.
  • Introduce them to winning and losing, playing to win, learning in defeat

If your child becomes crazy in love with one thing…

If they are ridiculously natural at it…

Don’t lose your head.  It’s still really, really, really, important to build a wide and strong base that will support future success.  










5 Things Parents Can Learn from Friday Night Tykes

ImageFriday Night Tykes debuted Tuesday on the Esquire Network.  

“Friday Night Tykes” provides an “authentic and provocative glimpse into an independent youth football league in Texas.” An Esquire Network spokeswoman added, “We believe ‘Friday Night Tykes’ brings up important and serious questions about parenting and safety in youth sports, and we encourage Americans to watch, debate and discuss these issues.”

Twitter exploded as well as the comments page on the network page dedicated to the reality show: 

“I’m not sure what Friday Night Tykes is going for but it comes off like a tragedy.  These coaches need to get a life and a grip.”

 “If you would like to lose faith in humanity and be terrified for children’s lives all at the same time, may I recommend             ‪#FridayNightTykes?”

 “This ‪@ESQTV show on youth football is basically child abuse. I can’t believe what I’m seeing…”

 What can we, as parents of athletes, learn from such a revealing show?

Friday Night Tykes exposes 5 things we can discuss.  Brace yourself.  We can gain some positives as well as negatives:

 1.  Coaching:

There are 3 styles of coaching:  Authoritarian, Authoritative, Indulgent           

Indulgent:  coaches holding low expectations, low demands, high praise given for little accomplishment, catering to the wishes and             direction of the child. The focus is on the comfort of the child and the child’s returned affection. They would be considered “soft”             coaches. Children coached in this style will not develop the character or skills necessary to participate in organized groups productively. 

 Authoritarian: highly demanding, restrictive, punitive coaches. They demand compliance without attending to the legitimate needs,             age appropriateness of expectations or concerns of a child.  The focus is on performance and status.  This style would be considered “hard” coaching and is fear based. A majority of children will break-down emotionally and/or physically and not achieve             longevity in the sport under this style of coaching.

Authoritative: holds developmentally appropriate high expectations, demands and standards. With an understanding of             children, these coaches teach, guide and lead with respect. They hold the child responsible for character developed and closely             monitor progress, objectively providing feedback on performance and providing measured and consistent consequences to correct             actions. The goal is to develop inner strength, maturity, and longevity of excellence.

The best coaches are demanding. They push hard to get more out of an athlete than they thought they possible. They may get angry and yell, but they balance that with care and belief in their athletes. There’s a high degree of understanding of the developmental age of their athletes and what an individual athlete can handle mentally and physically. Parents should ensure their child has a coach with the most authoritative style possible. With that said, finding an Authoritarian or Permissive free coach is difficult.

2Age appropriateness: 

Elementary:  Kids should be exposed to as many opportunities as possible and allow kids to follow their interests. It’s a time to play,             have fun, explore, and discover while building fundamental and foundational muscle and skill, character, mental, emotional and             social development. Development should be incremental and increasingly focused through age 14. 

 Middle-school:  Kids will be going through a transition from 13-15 years both physically and mentally. They will be evaluating the ownership of what they are interested in pursuing as their bodies go through puberty and change. The focus at this stage is to allow kids to decide if they will remain in or narrow the focus of a pursuit. At this point, the finer skills of a sport ought to be the focus.  Attention to mechanics, character, strategy is essential over performance and winning.

High-School:  By this point, a child’s body and mind are ready for the rigor of training and performance. They are also emotionally             developed enough to make personal decisions about matching their level of investment and intensity with their goals.

Pushing kids to perform too early only serves to undermine longevity in a sport. Many young phenoms never make it in their sport past puberty due to burn-out or physical or mental development that limits their ability to progress to the level they expected. So, it’s wiser to keep perspective on what’s age appropriate. They succeed far better, far longer. 


It IS important to develop tough-minds and strong character in kids. In general, our culture has become one that errs on the side of             being permissive and indulgent. We have gone off the deep end by calling anything less than coddling and immediate gratification, child abuse. As adults, we need balance, common sense and good judgment. We need to arm our kids with survival skills by developing courage, perseverance, reasoning, responsibility, commitment, endurance, grit, ambition, determination, self-control and a myriad of other character traits we can teach them through athletics. Pushing them, holding them to high standards, holding them accountable, letting them experience negative consequences are essential to them being successful. They need to learn that reward is on the other side of hard work. BUT, these are best taught in incremental, age-appropriate degrees with an authoritative style. 

4.  Boys:

Boys gain validation through physical conquests.  Providing boys with demanding physical play, challenge and contests is essential             to their well-being.  Boys must be given ample opportunity to be physically aggressive in safe, structured productive pursuits.   So, challenging boys extremely hard and showing them they can break through perceived limits, discomfort, fear, and desire to quit is positive.  If boys are neither guided nor given opportunity for this, they will find destructive, harmful ways to vent their aggressive nature.

5.  Living Vicariously

When we had kids, we parents shifted our attention and priorities to the needs of our babies. Many of us gave up the personal lives             and pursuits we had to attend to raising our kids. As they grow and need us less and less, we have the opportunity to shift back to our own pursuits more and more. Our kids need us to do this. It allows them to grow in independence. It allows them to watch our model. It takes the pressure off them to accomplish things for our personal needs of accomplishment and allows them to enjoy the satisfaction of what they accomplish on their own. The perfect balance for an athlete is to have a coach and parent who all invest the same level of intensity. If any one of the three wants success more than the other, it’s out of balance and won’t ultimately work.  Athlete, coach and parent must all be working in sync for the same goal and degree of investment.

Does Friday Night Tykes have any redeeming qualities?



< P = Z x C5 x E The Formula…


< P = Z x C5 x E


 If you wonder why some people succeed…


….you want it for yourself


….you want it for your children


You just need the secret.  The formula of success.


The level of success anyone attains is a result of how much they increase the factors in the formula. Each factor multiplies the others.  The outcome is simple.  You will become successful if you take one step…decide to invest in yourself and your children’s potential and begin to increase the factors in the formula.


 < P = Z x C5 x E


 < P  Maximize Potential


  • Be clear about what you’re pursuing and why
  • Choose to maximize your potential over other pursuits. Shift your attention to becoming the best you can be and accomplishing the most possible.
  • Goals become individual and internal.  Success will not be defined by external measures, can’t be given or taken away by someone else, and isn’t achieved in a single event. 
  • Success becomes a process of continual growth.  There’s zero fail.  You stretch, evaluate, adjust, move forward and repeat.
  • Goals are used as signposts that mark accomplishment.


Z       Zone


  • Find your sweet spot:  Use your natural strengths, talents, abilities to do what you love to do.
  • If you’re talented but have no passion for something, only a limited level of success will be achieved.  If you are passionate, but don’t have the natural strengths to succeed, it won’t work either.


C5    5 Character Choices           


  • Centered:  Operate with a focus on maximizing your potential, becoming your best, setting your goals, your pace…and not allowing anyone to pull you off course.
  • Coachable: Attend to a coach’s guidance.  Listen, evaluate, adjust and move forward with a positive outlook.  Zero blame, zero excuses.
  • Committed:  Prioritize your daily schedule and activity choices according to goals, doing the hard work when you don’t want to, making the difficult choices when there are options. 
  • Competitive:  Be willing to risk, push past where you think you can succeed, do more than you think you can, push the envelope of what has been done enough to move forward.  Compete more with yourself than others.  Use competition to push harder than if you were alone. 
  • Composed:  Find the balance in physical, mental, spiritual, emotional aspects of your being.  Direct adrenaline to do something great when it matters.


E      Environment 


  • Surround yourself with the people who will bring out your best. 
  • Have a supportive family who will use family time, finances, emotional investments in a partnership for each other’s best.  Parents take care of needs: transportation, nutrition, rest, providing encouragement and comfort as needed.
  • Choose the coach who has equal passion, talent, and skill to bring out the best at a matching level of development.
  • Find a team that’s going in the same direction, has the same level of skill, and equal amount of investment.
  • Find a facility that has space and equipment necessary to get the training done.


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We’ll cover each factor from a variety of perspectives.  Parents of high achieving, accomplished kids, coaches, national level athletes will all weigh in regularly.  This blog is dedicated to guiding you and your children to imagineering a big…an Olympic sized life.  It’s what we’re all meant to do.  


Imagine what life would be like if all our kids became the best they could be….where they maximized their potential so that it benefits everyone around them.   Pretty cool.