Cheer On Our Children

It might seem like the time to put away those Grizzlies growl towels. Don’t do it.

That’s because we now need to direct the same kind of unity, single-minded focus, and energy toward a different cause: promoting the development of our youngest children in ways that increase their future opportunities.

As the NBA season drew to an end and the playoff games began, this community was passionate about its “Believe Memphis” attitude as we shook our growl towels and shook our opponents’ confidence. But it also made us wonder:

What if we channeled our inner Tony Allen to cheer on parents as they work hard to ensure the positive emotional and social development of their children? What could we accomplish as a community if we emulated Marc Gasol’s determination, and even when battered and bruised, we decided to fight on because the future of every child in Memphis and Shelby County depends on it? What could we accomplish if we applied the Grizzlies philosophy to early child development, focusing on winning day by day because we know every victory will pay off in the long term?

Be a “Sixth Man” on the court for our children. Tweet this!

Becoming Our Children’s “Sixth Man”

We should try to transfer that playoff intensity to a campaign for ensuring that children in our community have the kind of support in their first three years that lays the foundation for positive outcomes in school and in life.

There was a time when the Grizzlies fought especially hard to win because they were cast as underdogs. These days, they are considered one of the top sports franchises in the country and one of the most determined, competitive teams on the hardwood. Even the NBA commissioner commented on the power of Memphis’ “sixth man” to influence the outcomes of games.

These are lessons that should inspire us outside the FedExForum as well. There are thousands of children in this community who could be considered underdogs faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Many of these at-risk children live in families burdened by poverty, with parents whose emotional resources are drained by stress, mental illness, poor health, and other barriers to effective parenting.

When parents are unable to provide the support and nurturing needed by their children, the rest of us need to become a “sixth man” for the cognitive and social and emotional development of our youngest children. The players on the Grizzlies team have said that they are strongly motivated by fans’ solid support for them. Surely, our children deserve no less.

If we can come together to cheer on a team that captures the essence of this community, we can join hands to provide the motivation, the support, the parenting programs and other interventions that reflect our community’s moral responsibility to show all of our children that they’re important to us.

A Headline to Stop the Presses

We all hope for the day when the headlines trumpet the Grizzlies as champions of the NBA, but even that headline will pale in comparison to one that trumpets Memphis and Shelby County as a community with a genuine commitment to the optimal development of its children.

Just as self-confidence is an essential characteristic of every NBA all-star, it is an equally important part of young children. Children who think of themselves as valuable and successful are better able to cope with frustrations and challenges. They develop a sense of mastery that contributes further to their confidence. Conversely, children who have low self-esteem are easily frustrated and quick to give up; their lack of success then reinforces their negative self-image.

That’s where the importance of the cheerleader can be felt. Young children need parents, caregivers, and teachers who promote their self-confidence by giving them positive reinforcement about their abilities and their efforts. When these important people in a child’s life are negative or unsupportive, he is likely to develop a poor self-image and low self-confidence.

Just like the Grizzlies, our children need people to cheer them on, to nurture them to achieve their potential, and to praise them for giving their best effort regardless of the score. Healthy self-confidence is a child’s protection against the challenges he will encounter throughout life.

In this way, healthy self-esteem is one of the best gifts parents can give to their child.