Picture of Hi I'm Suzy, the host of Run Lift Mom!

Hi I'm Suzy, the host of Run Lift Mom!

Run Lift Mom is an audio podcast uplifting women and guiding mothers through their fitness journey. Episodes feature expert interviews in the topics of running, strength training, and motherhood.

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Letting Kids Fail as a Parenting Strategy


This is a Run Lift Mom podcast interview discussing letting kids fail as a parenting strategy with Sonja Montiel of College Confidence.

Squarely in the “momming” category!

Fact: you don’t need to be the parent of an Olympian to see how well-being, confidence, and being involved in sports are connected.

They can be a double edged sword for young people, though and Sonja shares her personal story of how her Father was the most influential coach in her life.

As you hear her recall her Dad’s gentle approach in letting kids fail as a parent strategy, it may surprise you to hear she went on to play collegiate sports as a D1 soccer player!

Who is Sonja?

Sonja is a mom of a 6th grader and second-year college student, married to her high school sweetheart (29 years of friendship!).

From her home, she runs College Confidence, an independent college consulting practice, supporting teens and families in four countries.

She relies on humor and fitness, integrated as one! In her household, she names these soccer and flamenco.

Professionally, Sonja has 20 years of college admissions experience being an admissions officer for the University of California system, leading a private high school’s counseling department, and running her own practice as an independent college counselor.

Her students are innovators, creators, and compassionate problem solvers with the goal of protecting the worth and authenticity of teens so they feel ready to take on the world.

In her words

“Fitness is a symbol of one value within a family that protects each of our identities, self worth, and sense of belonging. Our role as parents directly impacts the worth that our children acquire.

Working with teens, I see dangers when parents unintentionally teach their children that worth comes in the form of tangible outcomes. The biggest danger is that they remain child-like throughout their young adult lives.”

Rather read than listen?

I’m proud to offer transcripts with my shows moving forward in an effort to meet you where you are!

Interview transcript

Suzy: [00:00:08] You know, a thing or two about modeling, healthy behavior. I mean really in both areas, both in the athletic and soccer part, as well as modeling healthy behaviors for would be college students.

I mean, that is both things are worthy and definitely that college is an accomplishment 

Sonja: [00:00:27] it sure is. And I just feel so strongly about our college going culture in the us.  I work with students in four different countries and it’s very interesting to have a cultural perspective on, on our young minds. And I feel very strongly about how we’re raising teens.

This notion of having a requirement of going to college, we’re losing track of keeping our teens’ mental health, very centered and healthy. And so I use that concern in that word. As my anchor to not only helping me raise my own kids as, as a mother, not only coaching youth programs, but,  helping families really understand what is our center when we’re raising young people in their, in their future.

Suzy: [00:01:07] I want to first dip in a little bit.  If you don’t mind sharing just some of your experience with athletics. So why is it important for you? For me to expose my kids to different sports, can you speak to like what that does for their character? 

Sonja: [00:01:23] You know, everything stems from how we grew up. Right. I mean, our family background, we’re very much rooted to when we were children and what was such a positive influence in our life. And I just want to share, and it’s such a core to who I am is I have a twin, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have triplets.

It was just my twin sister and I, and my parents divorced when we were about seven and my. Parents decided to let my father would raise us and my father, both my father’s first generation German, my mother’s first-generation Filipino. So here’s my father. It’s like the eighties. And he’s looking at these young girls and saying, oh my, like, what do I do?

What do I do with raising these girls? Right. He is from Berlin. He came to the states when he was like 19 and he used soccer. He is something that he was so passionate about. He loved the game and he decided to say, I’m going to use soccer to help raise my daughters. And he still remains the best coach I’ve ever had my entire soccer career.

That foundation of sports and, and we, we played volleyball. We played softball, we played so many different sports, but that notion of team. who am I as a team member? Not only on the field, but in, within my family was core was core to who I was as a child who I developed as a young adult and who I am as a parent, kind of like as a leading coach and within the family.

Exposing our children to not just, I don’t want to name the sports. It’s just really anything where they can find their sense of contribution.  Just a little background. I stunk as an athlete. I was such a concern like my first practice it’s soccer, my sister and my dad looked at each other like, Ugh, I don’t know this is, this is definitely not for her, but they had patients.

They, my father never like coached me without permission. And I found myself my body, my heart, my mind on my own. And I developed into this incredible athlete and leader in my own life. I think that’s, what’s so important is allowing our children to find ways I can contribute to this family. I can contribute to any team that I belong to.

man doing tricks with soccer ball
Photo by Yogendra Singh on Pexels.com

Suzy: [00:03:40] So me thinks it’s probably a mother listening right now, Sonia. Um, but I, ladies, I want you to hear that Sonya’s father. Played with them to connect with them. So he used sports or play as a way to connect with his daughters and, you know, listeners of this show. If you’ve been around since season one, you’ve heard me speak with a couple of other guests about how it’s challenging, especially for men and fathers, to know how to play and how to connect from those young age.

And what I hear you saying is for, for you guys soccer, was it, that’s how you connected.

Yes for sure. 

Sonja: [00:04:19] And I also, in terms of what my father did, so right. As I reflect back, I didn’t know that then, but yeah, he was more silent than anything. I mean, he was such a great listener and when things got really uncomfortable in terms of my physical sense, like, oh, that game was hard or I totally failed at that play.

He didn’t correct. He listened. He, he reflected on, oh, what, where did you feel like you failed? How do you think you could have, um, taking the next step? So he was brilliant and he didn’t know this brilliant and letting me have the time to reflect upon myself because many, many parents. And this is I as a, as a youth soccer coach.

I had really keep parents at bay. We don’t need to rescue our children and say automatically that, oh, I want to make them a better player. So I shall coach on the sideline because we know those players, we know those parents, right? 

Suzy: [00:05:13] Yes, we do. Well, and I’ve got to imagine that you might see some of those tendencies as you are coaching young children or young kids for college as well.

The tendency to that, the parents want to make everything right. 

Sonja: [00:05:28] Correct. that’s it, I mean, that’s, that’s the common theme of our lives as leaders in our children’s lives is I will always be the coach and I release all of the listeners out there. Like I release you. You’re not always the coach. You don’t have to always be the coach.

You can literally just be present. You can cheer, you can help your child, you know, reflect and support. And that alone builds this amazing team that I’ve experienced in my own life. Where you are raising the independent beings, you’ve dreamed about they are becoming like reflective and independent and they’re not relying or depending on the adults in their lives.

That’s the longterm. 

ground group growth hands
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Suzy: [00:06:07] It’s so helpful to hear like a third party say this, because I know as a mother, the last thing I want to do is see my child hurt or be disappointed in any way. So like, it’s my natural tendency to say, oh, mommy will make it better. Right. And what I hear you saying is to let somebody work through it themselves, like your dad did for you.

He coached you through some of those feelings to help you find your place on the I’m saying the team in air quotes,  find your place. 

Sonja: [00:06:36] Absolutely. I think when, when we’re looking at, the new college students, and there’s mental health issues in college campuses, now it’s, you know, totally emphasized with, with COVID, but, it’s this lack of, of grit and resilience.

So it’s reflective of, are we allowing our younger children to struggle a bit? Yeah. To really struggle and being uncomfortable and saying, it’s okay to settle in that and to, to, to not want to fix it right away, but to handle being unfamiliar uncomfortable. And through those emotions with our guidance and mentorship as parents, they can, we can help them find their solutions and that’s the grit and resilience that it takes for a teen to transition.

And I know this is like her future future to transition leaving. So they can fly and they, they will likely not return home because something didn’t work out that they’ll have the courage to, to stick with it. And persevere. And so, those are  like the core value of what team is within our family unit.

Suzy: [00:07:38] Do you mind, I know that folks are familiar with resilience. Do you mind defining grit for those listeners that maybe haven’t heard that term? 

Sonja: [00:07:46] Sure grit is where one has a goal, right? You, you establish a goal and if you do not have grit and you’re moving forward towards that goal, and the first attempt is a failure.

If you don’t have the grit, you’ll say it’s not going to work out this goal, this goal isn’t for me, I’m changing my goal and, and leave that goal. Grit is having the stamina to face. Despite the many failures you’ll have, or even sometimes significant that you will say, this is part of it through these mistakes, through these humps, through these failures, I can recover and I can still move forward towards that goal.

And then grit has a lot of characteristics within it to say, well, how do you recover? How do you get back up and start? You know, and I know you being a marathon runner, like it all, it takes mental grit to get to that finish line. Right. And it gets harder and harder. Once those miles starts to creep up on you.

Suzy: [00:08:45] When I’m complimenting others, like when I say somebody who’s got like grit level 10, it’s the highest compliment I can pay them. But I realize sometimes people don’t know what that means. You guys it’s exactly like, it sounds you’re tough. 

Sonja: [00:08:59] Yeah. Yeah. 

Suzy: [00:09:00] What would you say Sonia to a parent maybe of maybe younger kids like me. As well as a parent to an older maybe entering college child, how can they model healthy behaviors or what are some things that they can do to make sure their kids are heading in the right direction? 

Sonja: [00:09:20] Yeah, I’d love to take my example of just what my husband and I have done together.

My husband and I, we met in high school and it just really worked out long-term, but we both shared this value of. And fitness, isn’t an external experience. It is part of our family experience and we role model that, it is joy in our life.

So every time we decide to have a family vacation or we do something on the weekend, there is a fitness aspect that we don’t name it or title it that way.

And when we play, so it’s a pickup soccer game. It’s we had a volleyball summer tournament just within the family. One when summer.  We, we play with one another. We, we have fun. We laugh. We talk about, , I love the way you contributed to that. That was such a great move. How did you get that?

So we celebrate each other in our, fitness. My husband and I, we, so it’s not only as a family unit of playing that are it’s important for us, that our children see that the adults. Play for themselves as individuals. So again, my husband and I, we develop this, soccer, pickup village of over a thousand people.

And every Sunday, 40 adults, different walks of life, socioeconomic backgrounds. We all show up and we play soccer for two hours and we ask our children to give us that time. Right. So, oh, this is important to my, to these adults.

It doesn’t always have to be about me as a child. And so we role model why that’s important and they see the joy in us.

And then we have these annual picnic tournaments, all families are invited and they actually see this community that we’re building through fitness. For them it’s they don’t decipher between, oh, there’s fitness as an external, right.

 It is part of our value as a family and how we contribute to one another and then how we build a sense of community. 

man beach holiday woman
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Suzy: [00:11:13] I like that you show them too, that your identity, obviously it’s important to be a mother, but. Modeling for them that you set the boundary and that, you know, it’s important to fill your cup and for use that soccer, that movement community does it.

It shows them that you have value outside of the home in work and play. 

Sonja: [00:11:35] Absolutely. And I just have this memory that just popped up. During COVID,  I found one of my other loves it’s flamenco dancing. And, , I have this favorite teacher in Portland and I’m in Southern California and she started doing online lessons.

And so I was in the living room and I was doing this lesson by myself and my 11 year old was watching me. And at the end of that lesson, she just looked at me and she said, You’re so beautiful when you dance and, oh my , you could just imagine like my heart melted because I didn’t see her as a child.

I saw her as his team members supporting me in this art that I love and, and cheering me on. So like it was role reversal of a parent role, right? Like, oh my gosh, my child is cheering and supporting me in my identity of pursuing this art. So I thought that was just so incredible. 

Suzy: [00:12:30] That is so cool.

Sonia, where can people find you if they want to learn more about you and what you’re doing for both the soccer community, as well as the, off to college community? 

Sonja: [00:12:42] Yeah, for sure. So as you can see my whole philosophy stems from raising a family. To being a coach and then in terms of college admissions and the best way to find me is college confidence.net.

So go to college competence.net, and you’ll find all the contact info there.

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