Guest Post: Julia of Diary of a Word Nerd, on Why Parenting Requires a Lollipop

photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc
photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc

I read a lot. But I don’t reeeaad.

It’s like, do you hear Jimmy Hendrix? Or do you just listen to Jimmy Hendrix? (Thanks, Wesley Snipes in White Men Can’t Jump.) I read many blogs. I read comments and I read scouting reports for my fantasy football players.

I might read bios of NPR reporters and meteorologists.

To reeeaad, I need an actual bookJulia Tomiak reads enough for us both. She writes the blog Diary of a Word Nerd. A lifelong reader, Julia took a similar career path as me. It starts on the school paper, lead to college and advanced degrees and parenthood.

I did the same thing.

Well, if you count two junior years. Also, count my academic probation and repeated invitations to return to complete my degree. Julia’s here today to talk about something we do have in common: soccer coaching. We are much alike in our approach.

I think it would be awesome to someday face each other in a match of the century.

Julia says that, outside of writing, she likes to “run, swim, or strike a yoga pose.”
Just like me. Only I like rum, to eat by a whim, and strike a disc golf pose. Same thing. I just hope after you read this … I can still be your second favorite soccer coach.

Yeah. She’s good.

# # #

soccer ball in a net

Would you believe that I drive my kids one hour each way to soccer practice, three times a week? That’s a lot of miles on the minivan.

I don’t spend so much time and gasoline on soccer because I think my boys will play in The World Cup or the British Premier League (although they do). We travel because we love the game. It’s fast, it’s fun, and my favorite part: it teaches kids to think.

Soccer requires constant motion. No time outs, few set plays. Players think on the fly, problem solve, and execute quickly. When to dribble, when to pass. How to handle that annoying kid who pushes.

When I coach soccer (my boys aren’t the only ones with cleats), I ask the parents of my players NOT to yell directions from the sidelines. It’s confusing. More importantly, it robs players of the opportunity to figure things out on their own.

Photo: Julia Tomiak, 2014

If the parents don’t keep quiet, I threaten to pass out lollipops. Big ones.

And now, as my first child morphs from a smiling little boy into a pensive teenager, I realize I need a gigantic lollipop of my own. Last week, he told me I nag him too much. The motto from my coaching courses haunts me:

Be quiet and let them figure it out

This isn’t easy for a mother who expects over achievement and who harbors some minor control issues.

When it comes to parenting, I really like a set play.

I don’t want to see my kids get a bad grade or damage a friendship. But if my children are to become competent adults (who may or may not play in The World Cup), I must hold my tongue and let them work it out. Even if that means they fail every once in awhile.

Yes, I said it: the “f word.” Our society puts ridiculous emphasis on success, but failure often teaches better than any overbearing parent or coach. We shouldn’t fear it.

failure quote Henry Ford

So, with lollipop in hand, let me propose three coaching tenants turned parenting tips.

Experience speaks louder than screaming

In a soccer game, if our defense plays the ball in front of our goal, despite my emphatic directions not to, eventually we’ll get scored on. That goal will make a lasting impression; my sideline histrionics will not.

Similarly, in real life, if my child procrastinates on a big project and earns a C for it, next time, he’ll plan better. Nagging will only foster resentment, for both of us.

Find the right time to talk

Usually, kids don’t hear us while they’re in the middle of the action. Just like I won’t give play by play instructions for scoring when the offense attacks, I can’t go into the middle school cafeteria with my daughter and offer tips while that mean girl steals her food.

But I can provide advice. As a coach, I can set expectations and give reminders before sending a player onto the field. As a parent, I can prepare my daughter with strategies for dealing with that mean girl and her minions before morning drop off.

In both cases, I must wait on the sidelines and hope for the best. (Can we say, incredibly hard?)

Lectures lose them

Good soccer coaches speak in one minute snippets, because too much talking leads to daydreaming. Eyes glaze over. Players, and teenage children, detest lectures.

Questions work better because they involve the kids in the problem solving. As a coach or a parent I can ask: What happened? Why? What could you do differently next time?

Of course, I won’t always have the self-discipline to keep my lips zipped. (In fact, I fully expect to fail, but that’s okay, remember?)

I’ll need a big bag of lollipops.

How could you apply coaching to parenting? How has your parenting strategy changed as your kids have gotten older?

bio photoJulia loves books and helping people find good stuff to read. She also enjoys writing young adult fiction and posts for her blog, Diary of a Word Nerd. When she’s not playing with words, she’s chasing her four kids or running on the roads near her farm. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

coaching quote


  1. ksbeth says:

    all excellent advice for both arenas )

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      arenas! i see what you did there, beth.

  2. laurie27wsmith says:

    I’m no good at coaching Julia but I can carry a big bucket of oranges at halftime. Great post btw.

    1. Julia Tomiak says:

      Oranges work too! Oh wait, I guess those are for the players.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Psh. Coach gets some, too.

      2. laurie27wsmith says:

        Ha, ha, good one Julia. 🙂

      3. Eli Pacheco says:

        One mom used to bring biscuits.

      4. laurie27wsmith says:

        Just what you need to eat when you’re mouth is all claggy from running around.

      5. Eli Pacheco says:

        Nothing a little Gatorade won’t remedy.

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      Some days, that’s more crucial than the coach, mate.

      1. laurie27wsmith says:

        I think so Mate. I have a joke about players and oranges but it’s not for a family site.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        Holy smokes, mate. Better email it.

      3. laurie27wsmith says:

        I will.

      4. Eli Pacheco says:

        Got it! Damned Kiwis.

      5. laurie27wsmith says:

        That one always amuses me!

  3. I am still a work in progress on both fronts, but gladly take all the advice I can get. So, thanks for sharing this here today!! 🙂

    1. Julia Tomiak says:

      You bring up an excellent follow up point- we are all works in progress. So we should tread thoughtfully. Happy to help.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        I’ve met many coaches and parents who’ve definitely perfected it, though. Just ask them.

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      And a lollipop in a parent’s mouth is so much friendlier than a shoe.

  4. Julia Tomiak says:

    Aw, Eli, thanks for the compliments. I would happily meet you in a soccer challenge. I bet we’d all laugh and learn a lot. But I’d have to bring a snack other than doughnuts. 😉 Thanks for the opportunity to guest.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Glad you’re here – the soccer pitch is no place for doughnuts, you should know that, Julia.

      The car ride home? That’s a different story.

  5. Loved reading this, Julia! So true, and so hard to do…

    Something I always have a hard time with is to ask questions and shut up, and not to offer advice and solutions.

    PS: Saw this meme just today: “To relieve stress I do yoga… Just kidding. I drink wine in my yoga pants!”

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Moms drinking wine in yoga pants … God bless America.

  6. tamaralikecamera says:

    It’s not just children and teens – 34-year-olds have eyes that glaze over at lectures too! And this advice goes great for coaching AND parenting and I think even marriage too.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Even restaurant servers and grocery store clerks I imagine.

    2. Julia Tomiak says:

      Yes, Tamara, sometimes we have to stop nagging- I mean directing- and let the guys figure out where to pick up the kids next Tuesday night. Right Eli?

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        We’re so fully capable of this, yes.

  7. Reblogged this on Food Wine Fit 40 and commented:
    I love this post! My children are 23, 18, 17, 9, 7 and I really try to use a teaching philosophy. Your story has come at a perfect time for me.
    Thanks for sharing
    Gourmet Getaways

    1. Julia Tomiak says:

      Yay! Thanks for sharing and I’m glad you found my word helpful. Meanwhile, I’m bowing in awe as you must be one busy mama!

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Love that she reblogged this, Julia.

  8. Gary Sidley says:

    As a football fanatic and father of two football-mad children (now 20 and 24) I agree totally with your advice, as well as the parallels between coaching and parenting.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I will never know if being a good coach makes you a better parent, or being a good parent makes you a better coach.

  9. Kerri says:

    Oh I needed a huge lollipop this weekend. Like the Tootsie Pop that when you get to the middle you still can’t speak because you have a big hunk of tootsie stuck in your teeth. As my daughter becomes a teen I find myself with bite marks on my tongue from trying to stop fixing things. A lollipop is a much nicer alternative.

    1. Julia Tomiak says:

      Yup, it’s gotta be Tootsie Pops. You’re not alone. For someone who has always gotten in trouble for talking a lot, my high school nick name was “Babs”, keeping mum poses a huge challenge! Good luck!

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        We haven’t even gotten into the prospect of Silent Saturday.

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      Big-ass tootsie pops should be standard issue for all parents of teens. A bag full.

  10. jgroeber says:

    Oh, I love this! I got sucked into assistant coaching the U6 soccer team (okay, almost 1/2 of the team are mine so to not volunteer would have been crappy or lazy or both) and while standing on the sideline I thought, “I need to read that Coach Daddy guy. Because I have no idea…” And then I read this! And I KNOW all this. I know it. But to know it and to do it, in life as on the field, is hard. Thank you for the reminder. Succinctly put, may I add. Like my directions to my five-year-old daughter today, “THE GOAL IS THE OTHER WAY! THE OTHER WAY! THE OTHER WAY!”
    (Thanks for the reminders, Julia.)

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Julia really nailed it – it’s crucial to understand why we are there! It’s not always easy, sure. But if we don’t do it … they’ll fall into the hand of people who have no desire to do it.

  11. Rorybore says:

    some great advice for the sport of parenting. 🙂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I know I could use it.

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