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Fans’ View: Athletes can still make great role models

Photo: Earl Gardner

As a parent, I know my primary job is to raise healthy, well-adjusted children who will become healthy, well-adjusted adults. A huge factor in accomplishing that daunting task is to be a role model for my kids, much like my father was for me.

My kids are only 13 months apart in age, but they’re as different as night and day. My daughter is generally shy, loves sports—playing and watching—and is eager to please. My son is outgoing, has a wicked sense of humor, plays soccer but otherwise couldn’t care less about sports, and can be obstinate with tasks such as homework when he doesn’t see value in doing it.

For both of them, I hope to show them the value of hard work, the grace of kindness to others, and the simple pleasures in life. I understand my wife and I are their primary role models, and we have a huge influence on how they view life as they grow up. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have other role models, too.

Athletes as role models

Every time a popular athlete does something wrong, talking heads will, essentially, argue, “What about the children? You’re not being a good role model!” The counter argument is, “Athletes shouldn’t be role models; they should play their game.”

Me? I think athletes can make terrific role models for kids, even if they sometimes mess things up.

As a parent, it’s my job to talk to them about when their role models mess up, whether it’s just a bad play or getting in trouble with the law or saying something stupidly offensive in an interview. Whether their favorite athlete does something fantastic—raises money for charity, works hard to come back from injury, rescues a kitten from a blazing fire—or something really stupid, they provide plenty of teachable moments. As a parent, that’s fine with me. I’m a big believer in learning from mistakes—both your own and others.

Le Toux, Le Toux; He’s Frenchier than you

I’ve mentioned before that Seba Le Toux is my daughter’s favorite player. (Side note: She recently bought a hermit crab while down Wildwood. She named it Seba.) She originally chose him based on the color of his shoes at the first home game.

As it turns out, Le Toux has been a fantastic role model. On the field, he never quits, never stops, gives everything he has every game. That’s a fantastic example for on-field performance, of course. But it also translates into other aspects of life. My daughter and I have had plenty of conversations about Le Toux’s work ethic. This season, especially, provided some great teaching moments, from Le Toux not getting playing time early to him changing his game to become a playmaking winger.

As an added bonus, Le Toux isn’t just a great player. He also seems to be a fantastic person. My daughter has been lucky enough to meet him a few times, whether it was after a game or—my favorite—at the River Cup. He always has time for her and every other kid waiting to meet him. He takes time to talk to them all, sign autographs, pose for pictures—and all with a smile on his face. In short, I’m very happy to have Le Toux on “my side” when it comes to teaching my daughter about life.

Women’s Soccer

My daughter’s other big sports role model is Abby Wambach. Unlike Le Toux, we’ve never had the opportunity to meet her. But Wambach provides many of the same lessons in life that Le Toux teaches: Play hard, give it everything you have, and have fun doing it.

There’s also a subtle message in Wambach’s game that’s important for my daughter. Quite simply, and obviously, she’s female. Players such as Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Hope Solo provide a subtext to my daughter, and other girls. Women can play just as hard as men; women can be just as successful as men. In Wambach’s case, she’s more successful than the men, with her recently breaking Mia Hamm’s record for international goals scored by any athlete.

So to all the people who say athletes shouldn’t be role models for children, I say, “Hogwash! You’re just not looking at the right athletes.”

5 Comments

  1. Absolument! Nice article John. Thanks for featuring my kids (sporting the Le Toux kits)

  2. Funny, I was just having a conversation with a teen today who told me he thought smoking marijuana wouldn’t hurt his athletic goals because, “it didn’t hurt Michael Phelps.” You’re so right that even the bad role models can be used for good lessons. Shielding children from the world doesn’t keep them safe – giving them the tools to deal with the real life does.

  3. Insight of a great role model John!

  4. The nice thing of the (local) soccer role models is that they are much more approachable than those in other sports. Whether it is the River Cup, SOB Tailgate, Steak Dinner, a Charity event (like tonight at The Crossbar), etc.; always plenty opportunities to talk to them, get their signatures, etc. Also great to see them park the car near the near SOB tailgate and chat with (some of) them before games!

  5. John Ling says:

    I’m very glad folks are digging the “soccer dad” angle of the articles. Thanks for all the kind words.

    Chaz – credit for the photo choice goes to Dan and/or Ed. But I think the picture is a great demonstration of what I’m talking about when it comes to Le Toux being fan friendly.

    Spugger – you’re so spot on. And with social media, texting, and all that stuff it’s harder than ever to shield kids from the world. And the more you try to shield them, the more interested they are in the things you try to hide. Giving them the tools to deal with life is spot on!

    Montag – thanks for the kind words.

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