Flying, Flight Instructing and Fatherhood - One Dad's Rules for Little People in Sports

Little people rule.  I love being a dad.  We are so lucky to have such awesome little people in our lives.  Raising kids is ‘THE’ experiment without a playbook.  We only have one chance to get it right.  Parental pressure is immense.  But in one sense this is easy, you love your kid, and you cannot love on your children too much.  With enough love, they are going to turn out happy, healthy, smart and strong.  Chances are if you are a parent or caregiver reading this article, then statistically we know you have one lucky kid.   

We had a visit at work from a great leader high in our chain of command.  He asked the assembled group of pilots and aircrew why we have this particular job when we might make more money elsewhere?  I immediately said 'Camaraderie'.  My mates followed with a number of other reasons - all great values and reasons.  The camaraderie and values that my fellows listed are the foundation of the Old Dad's Flying Club.

Our work group has a pile of about 15 pilots - the 'new' guy is turning 40 and has thousands of hours of flight time.  Everyone has a great resume, thousands of hours, flight instructor rating, dual rated in helicopters and jets, veterans, and all around great role models.  We trust each other with our lives, and the circle goes beyond work.  We work, play, and support each other  - everyone's lives are intertwined.  

One other thing that we all have in common are little kids - in the 3 to 11 year old range, and we are pretty old as Dad's go...we are usually mistaken for grandparents.  The energy that goes away with age comes with some experience and patience.  For this particular group, the experience of flight instructing, crew resource management, and service combine to make a great cauldron of shared experience.  We lean on each other for ideas on being a father and how to raise our kids.

Flying is inherently dangerous.  How would I feel about one of my kids following my footsteps and exposing themselves to such heaping helpings of risk?  How to prepare them to step into big roles and wind up being part of a respected team of peers?  This article is my contribution, which is borrowed from yet another father (see below), and put through a pilot filter.   I use sports - specifically climbing, riding, skiing, and paddling to dial in a thought process.

One Dad’s Rules for Little People Sports

What is the point of youth sports?  The cliché answer is to have fun, which is true – but we have to answer this question seriously to create first principles we can build upon.  In this article and the following installments, we will explore key principles, distill them into five simple rules for Little People Sports, and a few ideas about how to modify them to match the situation.  In our family, we use these simple mantra to review before we start soccer practice, ride, climb, or ski adventure.  This cements a principle into an action.  We can use sports, individual or team to develop:

  • Listen to Coach
  • Move Swiftly
  • Big Smile
  • Be a good teammate
  • Be safe!

We start every activity with the kids listing off the rules out loud.  They are embroidered on my kids climbing harnesses.  Just saying them is enough - they will figure out what each thing means.

Listen to Coach: Coachability

Incredible tools like push bikes are starting kids younger, creating a stronger foundation towards a lifetime of movement excellence.   But younger athletes come with unique challenges - a big one is communication.  The barrier of being able to explain anything in detail can lead to coaching frustration, and giving up on form.  On the one hand, the child should not have too many bad habits imprinted on their body by injury, restriction, or inaction, so good form should come naturally.  But some things are counter-intuitive to learn, as an athlete you may not know the mistakes yourself.  So we have to find a way to dial in the most important athletic points right away.    A good friend told me, ‘learn something right, and you will do it right forever, learn it wrong, and you will spend the rest of your life trying to get it right.’  You might be thinking, slow your roll here - the Olympics are not for another 16 years there dad! 

So we start each session with listing the rules, and the top of the list is 'Listen to Coach'.  Just like in the cockpit, we need to know who is charge and when - and its not always Dad.  We let the kids role play being coach, sort of an IOE for their future PIC roles.

Claiming the title of Coach first and foremost lets the kids know what role you are playing for the time being.  They treat teachers and parents differently - coaches split difference.  So take up the coaching role and put it away when the activity is done.  

Being coachable is a quality that will lead a child to excellence for the rest of their lives. Coachability is a willingness to learn and follow instructions, without losing or breaking their spirit.  Self-confidence and respect is a cornerstone to coachability.  As the love your child feels matures and expands to include more people (around age 2), this love experiments and matures best in an environment of respect. The best emotions of our human nature have to be based upon a mutual respect between athlete and coach.

Remember - respect for the little athlete means stopping when they say they are done. Praise the work - not the result.  Learning to be coachable means learning that your can change through hard work and trying - different from the result they may get from a single day. As the great Ryron Gracie explained to me, ‘expect nothing and praise everything.’  

Move Swiftly

A good pilot never misses an overhead time except for we move with a sense of calm urgency.  The idea of learning to meter motion efficiently is critical.  Swiftness of foot, thought, and heart is important.  Kids know from an early age is they are dragging or not.  The key question is why.  If you rule out the good reasons, just remind them - be swift.

We love the book and movie Rikki Tikki Tavi.  Rikki's mother told him, 'a full belly makes a slow mongoose'.  They know Rikki is a hero, and they know that a the speed of the mongoose - turned on when needed - needs to be part of a hero's nature.

Big Smile

I adapted this rule from 'don't cry'.  Don’t cry is a negative, the best antidote to negative feeling is a positive one, not the absence of the negative.  Stopping tears may come in stages, but the idea is to turn that frown upside down.  

Smilling in the face of danger, misery and hard work is critical to facing the dangers and challenges of life.  Ask the child to smile and they will.  Reminding them that they have the power to change which direction those edges of the mouth are going is so important.  You don't have to mask your feelings, but they can learn that they don't need to feel bad any longer than necessary.

When a kids needs a hug - make sure they get it.  But make sure you are smiling when you giving one - they can tell the difference.

Be A Good Teammate

It does not matter if you are doing an individual or team sport.  Whatever a family is doing is a team activity.  Taking care of, lolling out, and being patient with each other is being a good teammate.  Talk about the roles of being a good team.

A good teammate gives good advice.  They know how to encourage each other with positive suggestions like key athletic principles.  So for riding (and nearly everything else) we remind each other to 'squeeze your buns'.  We talk posture all the time.  When is doubt, squeeze your buns - strong buns make you strong.  For climbing, spend a deal of time mirror breathing.  When I want CAS to exhale - I exhale loudly - then he does.  I build the pattern in through mirroring not speech in the moment.  When he is ready to listen, or if he asks, then I can explain that you dont want to bear down and hold your breath, it robs movement.  Exhale into it.  The next thing you notice, the boy is coaching his little sister to exhale!

We talked about respect when we talked about coachability.  Of course respect is mutually earned and mutually given.  The lessons in sports and aviation are perfect for the small athlete.  A deep respect for everything around you, and the chance to be there in the first place is something I try to instill each ride.

Be Safe!

Kids need to be able to assess the situation, measure the risk and make good decisions.  Putting this into practice means exposure to some level of danger.  Hopefully this will inoculate the kids to peer pressure and build a better leader.  Everyone can make the safety call - listen when the kids tell you that you are being unsafe.  All the CRM principles apply here.  Kids love it.

We need to create the safe environment but allow as much freedom as possible within it.  Creating a safe environment in what I like to call the Epcot style - you are not traveling the world, but maybe we can make you feel that way.  Well to the small rider, you may not know that mom created a safety bubble around you, but she did.  This is different that helicopter parenting.  Safety points aside, be prepared for the bumps, scrapes and crashes.

**Acknowledgment: years ago I was on a climbing trip to Joshua Tree when a freak snowstorm blanketed the campsite between high winds, freezing rain, and general misery (it was a great trip).  A few months later an article appeared in Climbing that was written by a Dad trying to get his mojo back after a climbing hiatus by taking his kids to J-Tree - at the same time we were there.  I searched for the article, but have not been able to find it.  This article had rules his kids developed, which I applied to my own when I became a father.  We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

**Disclaimer - there are plenty of flying, flight instructing Mom's.  I hope they enjoy this article, add to it it, comment, etc.  I work in an eco-system sometimes referred to as the old-dad's club and that is the focus of this article and the lessons learned.



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Here is a link to a great article from REI with the same themes:


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