Controlled Chaos

Forget Dr. Spock. Forget Madeline Levine. My new parenting guru is Bob Bowman.

For those of you not following the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Bob Bowman is Michael Phelps’ coach. Bowman has been training the winningest Olympian in history for the past 16 years. And, although I’m sure he has taught Phelps all sorts of useful stuff during that time, my favorite lessons are the ones when he screwed with Phelps.

During an interview on NBC last night Bowman admitted to messing with Phelps to make him “familiar with chaos.”

Familiar with chaos?

Forget the light bulb, a whole freaking chandelier went off in my head!

I’ve spent the past 16 years trying to PREVENT CHAOS from rearing it’s nasty head in my kids’ direction (as if I could anticipate when that would happen) – when all of this time I should have been teaching my kids how to live in the middle of bedlam.

Effing brilliant!

Bowman admitted during the interview that he once cracked Phelps’ goggles by stepping on them, forcing Phelps to swim with goggles filled with water. I’m sure Bowman didn’t realize at the time that this little stunt would come in handy during the Beijing Olympic Games. Broken goggles happen—you never know when—you just have to deal with it.

Bowman’s approach makes so much sense. You can’t become the greatest swimmer – ever – if you crumble at the first crisis. You have to keep on moving even when your goggles are filled with water. Similarly, you can’t become a capable, independent adult if you need to call someone every time your ride is late or your calculator runs out of batteries or your homework is missing. Stuff happens—you never know when—you just have to deal with it.

Bowman also admitted to hiding Phelps’ goggles right before a meet so he would have to swim without them and making the driver pick them up late so Phelps would miss dinner. Was Phelps pissed? Probably. Did he stop swimming? No. Bowman trained Phelps to deal with unexpected situations that very well might creep up on him one day–when it really mattered (did I mention Beijing?).

I thought I was preparing my kids to be launched into the world by teaching them practical, useful skills like doing laundry and tying a tie. But who am I kidding? If my kids were faced with utter chaos they would probably whip out their phones to call me and ask me how to solve the problem.

So, in the interest of preparing my kids for the unexpected, I’ve decided to take a page from Bowman’s training manual and screw with them.

Now, I would never leave them somewhere if I knew they would be in danger. I wouldn’t want the car to run out of gas when they are on the highway, their phones to die when they are in the city, or their debit cards to be depleted just as they are about to board a plane. But I know these things could happen because similar things have happened to me. I just have no intention of orchestrating that.

So I’ll start small. Maybe I won’t pick them up from school or soccer practice or ACT prep class AND (and this is important) I won’t pick up the phone when they call!

What would they do?

I could lock them out of the house!

I could forget to pack lunch!

What if I swiped my 16-year-old’s wallet as he left the house to go out with friends or what if I gave him bad directions to a friend’s house and he couldn’t find his way? How would he handle those situations? Could he handle those situations?

My kids may not be training for the Olympic games but chaos is everywhere and they should know how to deal with it.

If I get to screw with my kids in the process, all the better.


Would you mess with your kids? Let me know.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. This is a great post! I like the prepare for chaos idea that Bowman uses and I like how you relate it to parenting. I will have to keep this in mind as my kids get older.



  2. Posted by Linda anderson on August 3, 2012 at 3:42 am

    This is great!! Im going to start shaken it up for my kids! Thanks



  3. Posted by Mark Anderson on August 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    indeed – this will be fun



  4. Great idea! I smell a new reality show coming . . .



  5. […] Always maintain a sense of humor. Laughter can’t make everything better, but it sure does […]



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