The player crouched in ready position near his third base post. Early in the season, his eyes beamed with determination and excitement. His dad stood nearby at the fence next to the visitor’s dugout calling, “Be ready. Just like practice. When the ball comes to you, you know what to do. Look alive now.”
The ball is hit up the third base line. The player scrambles toward it. He slips on his own feet and falls into the dust. He gets up with panic just in time to see the outfield stop the play and throw the ball into the pitcher.
That’s when I began to feel sick. I heard the dad scream, “What are you doing!? Why didn’t you get that! We practiced! Are you kidding me? Get the freaking ball!” Curse words flew then drowned to a mutter. Then it finally exploded out of his mouth, “You’re terrible.” The boy’s shoulders slumped as he held back tears.
This was tee-ball. That child’s body eventually went back to ready position for the next batter, but his eyes never beamed again that game.
As parents, we always want our children to succeed and shine. Sports can be a great social outlet that grows your child’s natural athletic abilities as well as commitment, teamwork and leadership. But our passion for their success can too quickly turn competitive, ugly and unhealthy. How can we push our children to reach their potential while keeping our motives and expectations in check?
According to Peak Performance Sports and Psychology Today, a few simple guidelines can help keep parents in check.
- Sports should be fun for kids. It is a game – not a business for kids.
- Your own agenda and experience is not your child’s. Involvement in sports is to grow your child not further your agenda or relive your glory days.
- Your child is not his/her performance. Love them unconditionally.
- Focus more on the process of playing the game and less on the results or trophies. The best athletes are absorbed in the current moment of performance and not thinking about the overall outcome. Celebrate performance improvements not just wins.
- Be a role model on the sidelines and should model composure. Your child watches your reaction to close races or questionable behavior by an opponent. Stay calm and in control during the game and encourage your child to do the same.
- Refrain from game-time coaching. Just let them play. Your role as a parent is #1 fan and supporter. Leave the coaching to the coaches.
- Allow your child to fail. Successful people take risks and therefore fail more frequently. Teach them to view their failures positively as opportunities to learn, fine-tune, work hard and grow.
- Do not compare. Your child’s development is completely unique, making comparisons to other athletes useless, inaccurate and destructive.
- Balance the bigger picture. Help your children develop realistic expectations without robbing them of their dreams. Swimming a record time does not mean an automatic scholarship. Similarly, missing the winning field goal does not mean life is over.
I’ll never forget that little tee-ball player’s eyes. I wish I could have scooped him up and said something to restore his self-worth that was taken. “You are more than that play. You are more than any game. You are amazing.” But I couldn’t. I can only hope my tiny glimpse was not an accurate depiction of his entire athletic career or childhood.
Parenting an athlete, of any age or skill level, requires patience, support, self-control and understanding. It’s as if all the parenting skills we practice daily are on display. I guess the old adage is true – you play the way you practice.