In society, when a boys fails to be focused, a quick-to-throw-out comment we say is, “boys will be boys.” The incorrectness of that comment is that it uses future tense (will be) to describe the present. The truth is that in the future, boys will be men. As an athlete and parent, I have a role to play in making sure that my boys become men.
The most blatant problem with men who are assisting today’s boys in their path to manhood is that they are quick to tell boys what to do and often are too time stretched to show them how to do it. To further complicate it, they don’t lead by example. We tell our kids that schoolwork is important, but we ourselves spend very little time learning new things that are mandated upon us. We make poor food choices, right before their eyes, then we harp on them for being picky eaters. From my perspective, the reason men aren’t helping boys become men is that they aren’t practicing what they preach.
My youngest son is now 16 years old and is making the migration from boy to man. If I parallel his path to that of a wildebeest, he is commencing on his first journey across the Serengeti as the monsoons of adolescence creep into his life. My intentional response is not that of the traditional talkative dad who tells anecdotal stories to his son from his recliner and the dinner table at the end of a work day. The use of words (or lack of action, whatever you want to call it) are known dysfunctional strategies that I actively discredit. He yearns for an example to emulate. He needs not just a hero but a hero who is also focused on improving. He needs another wildebeest.
Lead wildebeest is one of my jobs. As an athlete, I take responsibility over a regimen that makes me competitive. My workouts, nutrition plan, recovery strategy and use of my downtime are all important to my success on the field of competition and in life. He sees me create and update training plans both for myself and other athletes every week. He watches and helps me and his mom cook healthy meals for the whole family on Sundays, so we have great leftover/snack choices before we get hungry.
My son is also working with a private running coach and runs for his school teams. Over the fall and winter, my son logged his miles running both Cross Country and Track. He got better, every month, from those efforts, but his school couldn’t provide enough of the elements that make the difference between good and great. He and the other kids weren’t getting examples of how to put it all together-nutrition and recovery needed to be taught and on display as much as the workouts/training.
Now that he is in his “off” season from school practices, my youngest son is doing workouts that I am designing for him. We use trainingpeaks.com to create and log all of our efforts, and he is improving quickly. In our house, my wife and I both eat real food, nearly all the time. I have a nightly stretching regimen that is combined with core strengthening and stability exercises. He sees us, and he follows our lead.
What is different? To begin, he is sore a lot. Too many mornings he walks down the hall looking like he has recently been stabbed in the thigh. Second, he ends his workouts winded for more than a moment or two, as hard days are now really hard. Third, he is getting more rest days. During his sports seasons at school, he would end up with no more than one day off a week. Now, he gets at least two and sometimes three days off a week.
I take him to the weight room with me and show him what a max effort bench press looks like before I tell him to do one on his own. He sees me do an all-out 2 minute effort on the bike trainer before he is told to do one.
He is getting better, faster than he otherwise would at school.
Behind his success is simplicity of watching mom and dad lead by example and doing as matter of factual the stuff that makes us faster.
On to the punch line. Two weeks ago, there was a local 10 mile race that I signed up for. He and one of the top runners at his school also decided to sign up. On race morning, conditions were great for a fast run-cold with no wind in the forecast. Even though I had only run an organized race at that distance one time before, I was able to set a personal best, even after celebrating my 51st birthday. It felt good to see that getting faster as I age into my 50s is not just possible but reasonable with a focus on holistic training.
My effort wasn’t nearly as great as seeing my son cross the finish line ahead of me. We ran within 50 feet of each other the entire race. He pushed hard during his last mile and separated from me. He can in 68th out of 1133 men. I got 75th.
During some quiet time after the event, my wife asked me if she thought I could have beaten him if I had tried harder. Perhaps. But perhaps not. I was pleased with how well I did. I was elated to see how well he did.
Where we fail to lead by example, we create a future that isn’t as good as the present. Let’s leave the future better than we find the present and invest in the next generation by doing the right thing, in front of their eyes, first.