Don’t Buy the Almonds: Teaching Young Athletes Responsibility

Don’t you love this time of year? It feels like you’ve just packed away the equipment, yet it’s already time for another season of school, fundraisers and new friends. Let’s be honest—it’s also time to pay registration fees for whatever sport your young athlete happens to play.

Hockey Player CloseupIn our home, this time of year meant back to school and back to the rink. I will never forget when my son was younger and we told him he had to help with team fundraising for the first time. His team was selling chocolate-covered almonds. (As a parent, you know the drill: You pay for them yourself and eat them, or you sell them at work.)

I remember him saying, “All the other moms are selling the almonds. Why won’t you do it?” I wouldn’t because I was determined to teach my son the value of hard work. This was the perfect opportunity.

Each day I walked by the boxes of almonds which he hadn’t attempted to sell. We continually reminded him that he needed to sell them himself. I think he thought we’d give in and buy them. The deadline was approaching and he hadn’t even sold one box!

The day before the deadline was cold and rainy. We told him to get dressed in his hockey jacket, dress pants and tie and get out and start selling. He reminded us that all the other parents had bought the almonds. He said, “Why do you guys have to be so brutal?”

The thoughts in my head at that moment were not parent worthy. I wanted to say, You think I’m brutal when my only trip this year will be to every hockey rink in Ontario? Yes child, I’ve decided to pass on the Caribbean because I’d rather buy new goalie pads than lay in the sun! But I put on my good-mother hat and said, “Bundle up and get out and sell. Good luck!”

That day he went door-to-door and sold every last chocolate-covered almond. He even handed in the money himself. By the time he was done, my son took pride in selling them on his own. I took pride in teaching him such a valuable lesson.

Hockey Game ActionLater, when my son got older and started to play competitive hockey, the team wanted players to earn sponsorships from local businesses. We didn’t feel it was appropriate for our young player to ask these companies for money, but it was his job to thank them if they sponsored him. Early on we decided that we’d give everyone who sponsored our son a copy of the team book and a dozen homemade cookies. He would deliver these small tokens along with a thank you and a handshake to everyone who had sponsored him. The look on people’s faces when he showed up dressed in his hockey coat with cookies in hand was priceless. People genuinely appreciated that this young teenager showed up to look them in the eye and say, “Thank you.”

What I learned over the years was that it was these small lessons that made him appreciate what went into playing sports. I will admit it would have been easier to bring the almonds to work and sell them. But if I’d done that, he would have never learned the value of the time and energy it takes to keep doing what he loves. We needed to teach him that it wasn’t just about the glory of the game.

At the end of the day, you’re not simply raising a good athlete; You’re raising a good human being. Even if these lessons take extra time and effort on your part, try not to take that feeling of accomplishment away from your kids. Teaching them these lessons today will make them incredible adults tomorrow.

Allyson Tufts is a new author that has had many meaningful careers to date in non-profit, social work and human resources. Her proudest accomplishment is that of being a wife and mother. She spent many years watching her son and daughter enjoy their extra curricular activities. Nothing could prepare her for the stress of standing behind her son’s net for his debut as a goalie. As her experiences as a hockey mom started to pile up, she realized that not only were they funny, most importantly, they could be helpful to other parents going through their own experiences watching their kids in sport. She decided to take the leap and put her stories into her first book and so was born, “Lessons from Behind the Glass.” For more information on Allyson Tufts or to purchase her book, please visit www.lessonsfrombehindtheglass.com.

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