FTSL Week 4: Stop Saying ‘I Can’t’

Happy Monday, everyone. It’s time for another edition of my fall blog series: FTSL (From the Sidelines), where I’m sharing lessons and inspirations discovered along the sidelines of my boys’ fall sports. Because, truly, life’s lessons can be found both on and off the field for all ages.

So far we’ve discussed Get Out There, Come Prepared, and Competitors, Not Enemies. This week’s message?

Stop saying ‘I can’t’.

Having two active kiddos playing different sports this fall means most weekends for the next six weeks will have our family split in half. This past weekend, it was my turn to accompany our youngest to flag football. It’s a terrific program sponsored by our local YMCA, and the competition is a little less…intense…than it is for our oldest at soccer. Plus, many of these kids are either new to the game and/or still struggle to remember which way to run with the ball.

So, my time on the sidelines was spent doing a whole lot more laughing and cheering. But that doesn’t mean my role as sideline coach/encourager ceased.

The first quarter my son went in on defense. Now, in flag football, defense basically means you chase after the kid with the ball and try to steal (yank free) one of the two flags clipped to a belt around their waist. Usually, our son is a flag-pulling monster. But this weekend, the quarter ended and he’d successfully pulled none. So when he came out for a water break, I asked what was up.

“I can’t, Mom. The kids are too much smaller than me to reach their flags.”

Now, I could have just nodded in agreement, kissed his cheek, and given him a motherly pat on the toosh as he headed back in–our youngest is fairly tall for his age. But I saw the opportunity for a life lesson and chose a different response.

“Don’t say ‘can’t’, sweetheart, because I know you can. You’re great at pulling flags, remember? Now get back in there and see what you can do.”

He gave me a nod, offered me a slobbery grin around his mouthpiece, and trotted back into the game. And one the next play something happened:

He came alive.

If someone on the opposite team had the ball, our youngest was after them. He went on a flag-pulling mission. And if he didn’t get the flag, one of his teammates did. His intensity grew contagious, and our team came back to tie the game up.


Now, it would have been easy for me to accept his performance. To coddle him, to coo at him. But what would that be teaching him about real life? That when you don’t try your hardest, opportunities will still fall into your lap?

Maybe, but that’s not been my experience.

No, if you want something, you have to earn it. Work hard at it. That’s the lesson we try to infuse in our children. And for our youngest this weekend, it paid off. Will that always be the case? No, of course not. Sometimes things in life are too far beyond our control. But if you don’t give yourself a fighting chance, you’ll just face the torturous question later of, “what if I’d tried harder?”…

So the next time you’re faced with a difficult task, remember you have a choice: say ‘I can’ and try to tackle it with all you’ve got, or say ‘I can’t’ and concede without a fight. Which will you choose? Say ‘I can’, and the results just may surprise you.

Have a great week, everyone.


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