The Importance of Sports

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As a thirteen year old kid who experienced so much trauma and loss, I needed and relied on playing sports. It consumed my days; riding my bike to baseball practice and then racing to basketball practice after.

What was beautiful about  being on that baseball field and basketball court is that they made me normal. They made me just one of the guys and all my problems went away.

On the court, I didn’t see police lights.

On the field, I wasn’t thinking about that drug trade.

On the court, my mom’s sickness and her diabetes didn’t exist.

On the field I was safe!

Sports not only provided me safety but it kept me busy and out of harm’s way while being in a challenging environment. Sports gave me structure, discipline, exercise and guidance. They would drop whatever they were doing to make sure that I was Ok. Sports gave me a reason to want to do well in school. If I didn’t do well enough in school, then I was not allowed to play.

My coaches were two of the biggest community members and supporters of youth in the city. My baseball coach was the Youth Director of Siedman Center, A Boys and Girls Club. My basketball coach was a mainstay at the Downtown YMCA as well as a coach for Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. Both of them are strong black men.

I didn’t realize it then, but the two of them would play a huge role in my development. It was important for me to see someone that looked like me in a prominent and professional position.

Plus, my coaches were like father figures that taught me life-lessons through sports. At a time when my dad wasn’t always present, my coaches were there for me.

In sports, all labels are removed. A good coach doesn’t care if your child is ADHD. He will teach him how to make a jump-shot. A good coach doesn’t care if a kid is ODD. He will help him get a base-hit. A good team doesn’t care that they have a Foster kid on their team. They will view him as a friend that can help them win.

Today as a Foster Dad, I understand the power of sports. I encourage my kids to play a sport and will coach them when the opportunity arises. Sports gives a kid a platform to do well in a structured environment.

The importance of sports is the reason why I am a coach today.

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The Accident

As a foster dad, being a provider is expected but being a teacher is mandatory. The other night, my son was in a car accident.

361086546_20258cd627_oAs we looked at the totaled Ford Taurus, my son kept apologizing to me – “Dad, I’m so sorry!” He said over and over. I hugged him and calmed him down; trying to deal with my shock in the mean time.

I tried to explained to him that I can replace the car, but I couldn’t replace him. In that moment, I realized that I loved him more than anything.

He wrecked my car and, in doing so, he thought that I would be upset and condemn him. He was instead affirmed with a hug and reminded that he was valued. He now knows what unconditional love feels like.

I used this opportunity as a teaching moment. After I got him to calm down, I asked him to replay the events leading up until the accident.

Did he have a plan (route) as to where he was going?

Did he take all safety precautions to protect himself?

Did he eliminate distractions? (cellphone, music, friends etc.)

I told him, “Son, you have to make a plan, take it slow, and eliminate your distractions. If you do this, it will help you to lessen the chances of a car accident and help to save your life.”

The same applies to your life – all of these traits give you a road map to get to your destination.

There were some valuable life-lessons that could be taught in this situation. However, what I didn’t take into consideration then was the bonding experience that came out of it.

Parenting a Trauma Kid

16439237583_fda9b3a25a_o.jpgOne of the more challenging things about being a foster parent is parenting a kid that has experienced trauma. It is hard enough to parent a child without their historical information. Add trauma to the mix and you begin to scratch the surface of the different levels of issues and challenges your kiddo faces day to day.

Recently, we had a meltdown with our ten year old foster daughter. Upon being re-directed for the wrong she had done, she proceeded to go into her room and destroy it. Toys were thrown everywhere as she turned over her own tubs and boxes. She was highly agitated – her way of dealing with not getting her way.

Until this point, she had only been shown violence and verbal abuse.  When the people in her life didn’t get their way, they would yell, fight, and destroy whatever was in their path.

This is what she learned.  It was the only way she knew how to react in that situation.

However, it is extremely difficult to think about that in the moment as a parent. Your emotions are high, and the adrenaline levels are on a ten. My first thought, was to punish her by taking all of her toys out of her room – removing a potential barrier to keeping her room clean. My wife had to remind me that we shouldn’t punish her for getting mad and throwing her belongings everywhere since she was only displaying what she had been taught.3409975634_7e11dcd3e6_o.jpg

In comes the tricky part: her trigger is being told to clean her room because, in the past, she was beaten if her room wasn’t cleaned properly.  As foster parents, we must create a safe place for her.  If I take away her toys then I am punishing the reaction she has learned through experience. But, if my daughter and I clean her room together, then I am teaching the moment.

Several things are happening in this teaching moment – I am creating a safe place in one of the most important spaces in the house- her bedroom – and the two of us are bonding while cleaning this space. Finally, I get to praise her for a job well done after her bedroom is transformed from a disaster zone back to a ten year old’s pretty-princess palace.

When parenting a kid that has experienced trauma, the things that have helped me are to  take the emotion out of it. This is very difficult sometimes since it is hard to function when you, yourself, are angry and upset.  It is imperative to recognize your own triggers!

Recognizing your own triggers are sometimes difficult, but it is imperative to parenting children that come from a past of chronic trauma. Trauma informed parenting has changed the way that my wife and I parent our children.

Want to be the best possible foster parent? Learn more about trauma informed parenting habits as soon as you can.

Tip: My wife conducts Trauma Informed Parenting training throughout Michigan. Please fill out this form to get more information about booking Stacey or myself for a training today.