When I was 17 years old, my father urged me to join him one morning to practice driving in the snow. When we arrived at the local parking lot turned open expanse of fresh powder, he asked me to take the wheel and get a feel for the car. I drove cautiously, stopping and accelerating at low speeds. My dad chuckled as I gripped the handle tightly at 10 and 2 and worked to gain control of the 1974 Volare station wagon.

“Why don’t you take it up to 40 mph and try to stop?” he said. I gave him a puzzled look, but it seemed like fun. I gathered speed as he suggested and stopped in a straight line, to my surprise, proving my ability to maintain control. For years, I remembered this snowy, silent morning, without yet understanding the real lesson my father wanted me to learn.

He wanted me to know what it felt like to be out of control. That feeling where you are involved, but you don’t feel like you can direct the action. He wanted me to experience the panic that sets in and the beads of sweat that cause your mind and body to slip into overdrive.

As a teacher, I learned that this was the basis and foundation of helping children learn. The key was letting go and relinquishing control of the situation, rather than feeling compelled to direct every part of the action for them.

Years later, as a coach, I realized this lesson was a key to coaching success. Allowing young players to learn their own lessons was critical to teaching life’s lessons. By standing to the side and providing challenges, games, competitions, and freedom, I found that most of the hard work as a coach occurred during the planning phase of each practice.

By not having to be “the man” all the time, I was able to share the experience with players as young as 7 and 8 years old. I began to watch groups of players become a team. They were able to share the burden of the pressure that travel lacrosse demanded at each of their games or tournaments. These were truly the teachable moments. 

I was teaching by providing opportunity.

Yes, I did have to interject some rules and guidelines, but they knew that their job was simply to try new things and to not be afraid of failure because their teammates—and their coach—always had their back.

As parents, we want to provide the best opportunities for our kids. We plan when, and often, where they go to school. We plan what they eat and what they do when they get home from school. We plan for college and we plan vacations. We plan for their success in the classroom, on the field and, more generally, in the future.

All of this planning starts with great intentions, but it may not insure the results we want.

Hear me out—being an involved parent does not mean that you have to direct the “who, what, where, why, and when” for every aspect of your child’s experience.

My father provided a safe space for me to gain experience and learn what it felt like to be out of control. He could have said, “Turn into the skid!” or “Pump the brakes!” But he didn’t. 

For my sons, and my players, I have learned that freedom is how they learn best. Allow your players to get out of control in a safe place where the stakes are small. They’ll be more prepared as life’s stakes grow higher in high school, college, and beyond.

Enjoy the ride of watching your child test the boundaries. Let go.

You might be truly surprised by the results.

Wendell Lee is the Director of Programs at US Lacrosse.