What Can Two Extremely Successful Coaches Teach You About Parenting?

While reading a couple of different books recently, I noticed that two great coaches both made the exact same comment regarding how they treat their players.

Even if you don’t like sports, this comment has tremendous application to parenting.

The two coaches are Tony Dungy and Mike Krzyzewski -or Coach K as most people call him. Tony Dungy was an extremely successful NFL coach and the first African American coach to win the Super Bowl. In 2008 Coach Dungy set an NFL record for consecutive playoff appearances by a head coach with 10 straight playoffs under his belt.

Coach K has been the head coach of the Duke men’s basketball program since 1980. He has led his team to four NCAA championships, coaches the United States men’s national basketball team, and is the winningest coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history.

It goes without saying that these two men know how to get the best out of their players. So there are probably some things we as parents could learn from them about how to help our children.

One particularly significant lesson is something both coaches have talked about, and it’s the philosophy of “fair but not equal.”

Fair but Not Equal

What does that mean?

Well…Coach Dungy and Coach K work with men from all walks of life. The men they coach have different backgrounds, personalities, time on the team, responsibilities, etc. Every one of them is different.

So both coaches talk about how they set up certain rules for the team that everyone is expected to follow and they administer those rules fairly. However, when certain situations arise, the coaches may handle them differently depending on the player involved.

For example, Coach K says that if a freshman player were late for a bus departure he would probably leave him. But if a senior, who had built up trust and rapport with the team, were late for the bus he would probably wait on him. He then talks about two of Duke’s greatest point guards. With one of the point guards, he would draw up a play during a time out and that player would follow the play exactly how Coach K had directed him to. With the other point guard, Coach K would draw up a play and the point guard would sometimes change it on the court. Coach K gave that point guard the freedom to change plays because he was different and could make changes as needed.

Coach K says of these two players, “I treated both of them fairly, but I didn’t treat them equally.”

Coach Dungy coaches with the same philosophy and says that some guys are ready to handle more responsibility than others. If a rookie makes a mistake, Coach Dungy may give him an explanation, but if a veteran player were to make that same mistake he may get “torched”. The veteran has more experience and greater expectations than the rookie who is still learning.

Coach Dungy says, “I need to treat everybody fairly, but fair doesn’t always mean equal.”

Think about it…this has tremendous application in our parenting. We all have household rules that we expect our kids to follow, and there will be certain situations when those rules apply the same to every member of the family.

But there are many times when we should view each situation individually and act differently according the child involved.

Here are some examples. The blanket rule of the household would be no lying, but the consequences would be different for a three year old that lies versus your 16 year old. The 16 year old knows better than the three year old.

You may have two children who both bring home a “bad” report card. You know one child has studied, met with teachers, turned in homework, and asked you for help. The other child hasn’t put any effort in at all and you know they could ace the class if they would just crack the book. Would you treat each child the same?

If you have a teenager who has been extremely conscientious about being home on time and has never been late for curfew versus one who is routinely late and disregards your instructions to be home at a certain time, would you treat them equally the next time they broke curfew? Of course not.

That’s what it means to be fair but not equal.

You can treat your children fairly, but you shouldn’t treat them equally.

In fact, most of the time you shouldn’t treat your children the exact same.

It’s the same here at KW Legacy Ranch. Those students who have been here longer and have gained trust, are given more responsibility than the students who are new. A student who has demonstrated responsibility will be trusted to be in the kitchen to help cook meals, or to go on an out-of-town trip, or to help work on one of the vehicles. While a student who is new or hasn’t shown that they can be trusted wouldn’t be allowed to participate in certain activities.

The same is true for the flip side as well. Where much is given, much is required. We hold our student leaders more accountable than a brand new student. If one of the leaders who knows better were to break a major rule, the consequence would be different than for a student who had only been in the program for a week.

Do you understand the point?

In parenting, it is often important to treat each situation individually. Even though the rule may be the same, each child and each circumstance is different. It’s ok to alter your approach depending on the child.

Remember what two extremely successful coaches had to say about how they treat their players.

You should treat them Fair but Not Equal.

It’s the same in parenting.


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