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Lessons from Tebow and Elway

What quarterbacks can teach us about parenting, winning and American values.

c) Joseph Sohm
Source: c) Joseph Sohm

I live in Denver, Broncos country.  For whatever reason, our Broncos produce quarterbacks who become national heros. 

Tim Tebow, according to an article in the Jan 13, 2012 issue of USA Today, was listed at that time as America's most favored athlete. What is it about this quarterback that attracted such accolades?

Prior to Tim's arrival had been spiraling downward. With Tim the Broncos have zoomed upward with remarkable victories, often on seemingly miraculous last-minute touchdowns.  Fans  admire too Tebow'ss clean-living, religion-loving, demonstratively altruistic lifestyle.  Tebow reminds America  that we do have as a nation strong cultural values-hard work, joyful play, faith-hope-and-charity, and the potency of a closeknit and loving family. 

The same USA Today article interviews the Broncos' prior most heroic quarterback, John Elway, about Tebow's values.  Elway, himself a two-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer and now the Broncos executive vice president of football operations, muses, "Tim is beyond his years on and off the field.  His maturity a credit to his background and his parents. There is no question that from where I sit his priorities are different from those of most 24-year olds." 

Elway himself was no stranger to the potency of parents.  In his heyday of  quarterback heroics Elway often spoke publicly of the vital role his devoted football coach father and attentive mother played in his upbringing.

How do parents raise children to live by positive values the way Tim Tebow does? 

Many factors play in.  Tim himself was homeschooled.  Home-schooling parents exemplify high levels of caring involvement in their children's development.  Assuming that the parenting is predominantly positive rather than punitive, the more care and involvement parents devote to their kids lives, the higher the likelihood  that their children will grow up learning from and replicatating their family's values.

At the same time, Tebow's parents did not expect to do all the instilling of positive values in their children themselves.  They and their children were active members of a religious community.  A two-person parental team often has more influence over children than a single-parent mom or dad because there is power in numbers.  Adding the voice of a congregation to the voices of parents further amplifies the communication of values.  Put a Higher Power plus explicit education of religious values into the mix and the odds of values being both clearly articulated and profoundly learned zoom even further upwards.

When my own Jesse was in high school, he once reported to us an interesting observation.  "How come, Mom and Dad," he asked one night at dinner, "all but one of the kids on student council with me are also actively involved with their churches or synagogues?  It's odd because most kids in our school (an inner city high school) have no religious affiliations?" 

Our son's question harkened me back to my days as a junior high school teacher, also at in an inner city public school.  There too the leaders of the student body were virtually all part of the small subset of kids whose parents were active church-goers. 

Does membership in a religious community build more confident and effective families?  Or is religious-affiliation something that confident and effective families are more likely to do?  Maybe the two factors are circular in causation.  Belonging builds confidence; and confidence enables belonging.  Whichever the chicken and which the egg, giving children a religious-based sense of belonging, identity, and values does seem to bestow on them a major gift. Thank you Tim Tebow for this reminder.

How does Tim Tebow inspire his teammates to accomplish so many remarkable last-minute victories?

Tebow himself, as quarterback, serves as a parent-like figure on the team.  As Freud once wrote, 'groups take on the personality of the leader."  Just as a parent models behaviors, good and bad, that the children are likely to learn, Tebow's personal presence may count as much as his quarterbacking skills in the upsurge of victories that have catapulted the team from the bottom of the ladder to the playoffs.. 

As a mental coach for professional athletes myself (I work with tennis players) one key factor I consistently monitor is what an athlete thinks and feels when he is losing.  In fact, great winners  seldom feel that they are winning or losing.   Instead, they just see themselves as ahead or behind in the score.  They focus on what to do next, the very next step, rather than mentally leapfrogging ahead to the future outcome, that is, a win or a loss.  As Tebow puts it when asked about his frequent chats with a Florida-based pastor, these conversations help him to "stay humble when it's going good and to stay confident when it's going bad."

Humbleness keeps an athlete feeling that he has to continue to put out his best even if the scores put him in the lead.  Too often, over-confident players respond to being in the lead by reducing their focus and intensity.  Over-confidence then can lead to losing competitive advantage and becoming at risk for a nosedive.  Referring to stellar athletic ability and performance, "it can all end in a heartbeat," Tebow sagely muses.

At the same time confidence "when it's going bad" keeps Tebow, and therefore his team, fighting fiercely to the end.  As the great Yogi Berra so aptly used to say, 'The game's not over till it's over."  When other football teams play Tebow's  Broncos, the closer they get to the end of the game, the more they are likely to be in danger.  Time and time again the last minutes of a game, or even the first few seconds of overtime, are when Tebow and his team play their best.  For us all as well as for his teammates, what powerful attitudes Tebow models for responding to the happy and the hard times in our lives!

Parents who instill this combination of humility and positive can-do attitude in their children via both words and example are giving their kids an ultimate gift.  Thank you Tebow and Elway for  reminding us of values that are as quintessentially American as apple pie and freedom.   Go Bronco's!


Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver Clinical psychologist, is author of multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two.  A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler's most recent project is a marriage skills website,