The Best Defense Might Be a Good Offense

by Chris Sasser

I’ve been involved in sports for a long time. I played lots of different sports as a kid and teen, and I have coached both my kids when they were young and high school students for over 20 years. One phrase that I’ve heard all my life has always stuck with me. Maybe you’ve heard it too. It says this: “The best offense is a good defense.” I get it. If the other team doesn’t score, they can’t win. If my defense can shut them down and get the ball back for me, I am more likely to be able to score myself and win the game or match. In my mind, it all seems to make sense.

As I look at my parenting journey, it often seems a lot like a game where I am some sort of a coach (although I can often feel like a referee calling fouls and throwing flags). In the big picture, I hope I’m able to lead my kids into a life of faith and success. I hope they become the players God has called them to be, playing on His team and not the world’s team. As I evaluate my parenting style, I wonder if I have subtly settled into focusing on defense, believing that if I can defend my teens, protect them from the world, and teach them how to defend themselves, everything will work out. It all seems so, well, defensive.

What if I have it all wrong? What if I have my coaching philosophy mixed up? What if the better thought process is: “The best defense is a good offense.”?

As a parent, I think that we need to operate in the affirmative, on the offensive, being intentional and positive as we raise our kids and teens. A good defense needs to know how to react to what comes its way. The same is true in life, for sure. I definitely want for my kids to be ready to respond to difficult circumstances and situations that come their way. However, if I am only parenting from a defensive posture, am I missing some great opportunities to help my kids grow and develop into the believers I pray they will become? Am I only echoing, “Don’t do that!” and “Stay away from them!” as I parent my teens? That can get old.

What if I decided to parent from an offensive point of view? I don’t want to be offensive, but I do want to coach from an offensive frame of mind. You get it.

Here are a few practical ways to shift away from defensive parenting and look through a different lens:

Go on the offensive when it comes to building relationships with your teens
. Don’t settle for the natural order of things with your teenager spending time in their room and you wondering where your relationship with them went. Invite them to do things, create moments to connect, and pay attention to the times when they do want and need you to be present. Building a solid, meaningful relationship with your emerging adult takes work, so be intentional in the way you go after the relationship you both crave.

Know your players.
 As a coach, one of the most important things I can do to strengthen the relationship is to know my players. I need to know what motivates them, anticipate how they might respond to a certain situation or to my coaching, and I need to do the best I can to put them in situations where they can succeed. As you continue to build your relationship with your teenager, be a student of them. Know what they like, try to figure out how they think, and show them that you value them by paying attention to who they are becoming.

Go on the offensive when it comes to talking about things to come.
 Be proactive in having conversations about upcoming obstacles and issues. Figure out ways to have conversations about things like dating and sex, drugs and alcohol, and the pressure they feel to perform. Look just down the road and do your best to anticipate things that might be coming their way and help them think through what they believe and how they’ll respond in certain situations. They don’t know how to navigate the next phase of their life, and they need you to help them take healthy next steps.

Evaluate your scheme and tweak it for the next game.
 What worked in one game doesn’t necessarily work against the next team (or struggle). The basics remain the same (blocking and tackling or truth and honesty), but there may be some nuances to the way you deal with your teen in different seasons. Great coaches are always evaluating their approach, so make sure you don’t get into a rut in how you are dealing with and coaching your teen.

Celebrate when you score and win.
 In sports, there’s nothing better than the explosion that happens on the sidelines and in the stands when a team scores or wins. As your teenager has successes, celebrate the wins, and let them know how proud you are of them. Don’t focus on celebrating the worldly wins but spend more time praising your teen for the way you see them stepping into their faith and living the way God wants them to live.

So, even if you still think coaching your teens from a defensive point of view is important, make sure you are going on the offensive in some ways. If you do, you’re more likely to achieve the real, meaningful wins you are looking for.