Once upon a time, I was ‘you,’ bellowing my brains out at a young kid doing his best to hit the ball and run like hell to the base, or pass the ball to a friend, aim it for a net, all while figuring out what the heck off-sides really means, anyway.
This is going to sound like tough love, because it is.
Once, one of my older sons finally hit the ball after a full season of me yelling at him for looking at the 3rd strike. He was so shocked, he ran to third base. By the time I came to my senses, I realized I had actually (deep breath) started climbing the backstop. Really. Imagine my surprise at realizing I was dangling three feet off the ground! I was too embarrassed for words then (and rightly so), but now it’s pretty danged funny.
Suffice it to say, he never excelled at baseball, but has discovered karate and LOVES IT, no thanks to his earlier sports years, or to the behavior of his mom. And, with as many children as we have, I’ve learned a lot of lessons, and improved with each one. By the time our youngest, now six, is a teenager, I may actually be ready to have kids.
This moment changed everything: my wonderful and caring father (now 89 years old) gently said to me, as we sat at a baseball game together that same year, “the only thing kids need to hear from you is ‘Good job! Nice try!’”
Because for my son, the game became about staying out of trouble with me, pleasing me, getting approval from me. The game became about… me! How fun is that for him? NOT FUN AT ALL! What was he learning? NOTHING! The game should have nothing to do with me, or you—it’s about the kids, and learning, and playing, having fun and all the lessons that go with team sports, and winning, or losing them on their own.
So, unless you want your kid to hate sports forever, or wish you weren’t at the game, or to be embarrassed or distracted by your yammering, the only words we should hear tumbling from your mouth are (Ready? All together now…) “Good Job! Nice try!”
You might be thinking, that’s not me! She’s not talking about ME!“I am only helping the players, I’m not ‘that parent’. I’ve never climbed a backstop!’” If you’re saying anything besides affirming things in the neighborhood of “Good Job! Nice try!” then you are STILL that parent. Here’s a little secret about ‘giving help’ from the sidelines: (come closer now so you can hear me…Ready?)
YOU ARE NOT THE ONE PLAYING THE GAME!
Go relive your childhood sports career somewhere else, re-parent yourself in the other, less visible, but still adequately dysfunctional ways we all do- not on the sports field!
I know you can do it. Bring extra snacks to keep your mouth occupied if necessary. Chew gum, hold your tongue in between your thumb and forefinger, duct tape your bouche, whatever it takes to keep you from playing your child’s game for her or him, and with your mouth. The coaches will thank you, and best of all, your kids will actually enjoy the game and learn something, on their own.
In the words of two of my sons’ current soccer coach, Matt Ednie, who is clear, encouraging and under whose leadership my sons have grown tremendously, “remember, parents: it’s a game.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Trahan
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This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.