When my oldest son Joseph was about six, we signed him up to play baseball. Well, baseball is probably too strong a word. For the entire season he and his teammates never actually swung at a pitched ball. Instead they hit it off a yellow plastic tee placed strategically in front of them. Joseph and the other boys were given ample—no, make that endless—chances to hit the ball off the tee, and eventually some of them did.
What I noticed during those games was that the longer the kids took at bat, the more stressed out and frustrated their parents became. Shouts of encouragement and ‘Nice swing, Tyler!’ gave way to anxious pacing and lots of angry muttering. And while the boys were young and silly, they weren’t completely oblivious to what was going on around them. On more than one occasion I saw kids stomping off the field in tears.
So how do you help your young or teenage athlete stay connected to the “play” in sports? Dr. Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia, and author of the book 101 Ways to Be a Terrific Sports Parent, says it starts with two simple rules: Know yourself and know your child.
Understanding what pushes your buttons—situations within the game or aspects of your child’s performance that make you tense, for instance—will go a long way in helping maintain consistency between your words and actions. “I’ve seen plenty of parents tell their kid, ‘Just go out and have fun Johnny,’ but when Johnny looks into the stands, all he sees is an unsmiling Mom or Dad,” explains Fish. “Kids know how to read body language and when they get that kind of mixed message, they feel a tremendous amount of pressure.”
If the bases are loaded or there are just a few minutes left in a tied game, Fish advises parents to take a moment to think through the effects of what they say or do next and how it will affect their child. Remember, your kid’s performance is not a reflection of you or your current (or past) athletic ability, so a missed goal or basket is best taken in stride.
Another key element in keeping kids connected to the fun involves understanding what motivates them. Back in the late 1980s, Fish was working with an Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal, but was disappointed that he hadn’t broken the world record in the same event. “He should have been on top of the world, but because he was focused on this one goal, he was miserable when he didn’t achieve it,” Fish says.
Parents can help kids avoid this trap by suggesting that they have five or six different goals for a particular game or event. Being motivated by something other than performance can help kids have a more well rounded view of their efforts and enjoy the sport more. He suggests asking kids to consider the following questions:
“Competition can be healthy, but asking your kid whether their team won or lost should be the last question you pose to them,” Fish advises. “As a parent, you have the greatest influence on your child. Teaching them perspective and how to handle frustration will help them enjoy the game, and life, more.”
Tag(s): Parents' Corner