In Attitude, Motivation/Goals, Parents' Role in Youth Sports, Winning/Losing

The new year is here! Is your child athlete feeling ready? As a parent, you are your child’s most important teacher. Are you ready to help him or here make 2020 the best year yet?

The vast majority of athletes out there enter new phases fueled by “external motivations.” Whether it’s a fear of getting cut, a dread about how much of your free time is about to get swallowed up, or a knowing that they have to do some painful, distasteful things in order to get ready, these athletes seem to be motivated by moving away from something unpleasant rather than moving towards something pleasurable.

For example, “if I don’t do all this conditioning, the coach will be really ticked off at me,” or “I hate having to do these stupid weights, they’re such a waste of time.” It’s this kind of negative motivation that will ensure that you get the very least from your training efforts. However, if you go into the season actually wanting to train, looking forward to and driven internally by your own goals and dreams, then you will, by far, get the very most out of your God-given abilities.

So what’s your attitude going to be towards this season? How are you going to approach your child athlete’s training? A positive one will make it turn in the right direction and take you both as far as you’d like to go. A negative attitude will spin out of control, move your child away from his or her goals and leave you both wishing you had signed up for underwater basket weaving instead of your sport. In this blog series we have discussed the importance of training with a winning attitude as it relates to the athlete. Next up is the PARENTS CORNER!

“The apple never falls far from the tree”

So there’s that old cliché again, THE APPLE NEVER FALLS FAR FROM THE TREE. Truth be told, it’s actually a very important principle in parenting and coaching. In fact, if you’d like to shape your child in any particular way, then you had better pay pretty close attention to how this parenting (and coaching) principle operates.

So what does this homespun little piece of wisdom mean? Well, on the surface, it’s just another version of “like father, like son.” For good or bad, better or worse, in many ways your kids grow up to be very much like you. While they come into this world with their own, very unique sets of temperament, response-ability and resources, they will still end up more like you than not. Of course, this is an extremely obvious statement for me to make because who else are they going to resemble if not their parents? In addition to the issue of genes, they will be more like you than anyone else because that’s what happens when you live with your primary teachers for some 18 odd years.

The fact that you as a parent are your child’s most important teacher is another profoundly obvious statement. However, as obvious as this may be, far too many parents lose sight of the obvious: You are constantly teaching and influencing your child’s behaviors on a daily basis. EVERY interaction you have with them is yet another opportunity for them to learn. In fact, they ARE learning in every interaction that you have with them and many of these lessons are going on at an unconscious level. It is a fact that as a parent, you CAN’T, NOT TEACH your children. Even if you are an absent, neglectful parent, you are still continually teaching your children lessons about dependability, responsibility, relationships, intimacy and, depending on how they interpret your absence, their own self-worth. Good or bad, the lessons that they learn from you can last a lifetime and then be passed on to the next generation.

Unfortunately, way too many parents lose total control over what they are teaching their kids. Why? Well don’t go off and blame the terrible influence of those friends you disapprove of. And I don’t want to hear about all that nasty music that today’s young folks listen to or the violent movies that they watch that you think is leaving them twisted. YOU lose total control over what your kids learn because YOU stop being AWARE. Primarily you allow yourself to lose awareness of just how powerful an influence you are. You forget that EVERYTHING that you SAY and DO with your children is being soaked up by them like a sponge. EVERYTHING! They don’t miss a trick. They pick up your voice tone, attitude, truthfulness, you name it, and then they go and learn from it!

Forget the words that you use with them because what you say to your children is not nearly as important as how you say it and how you conduct yourself in your interactions with them, your partner and everyone else in your life. Simply put, it’s who you are as a person that does the primary teaching, NOT what you say. It’s the behaviors and emotions that you live and model with them that provide the most powerful teaching. So if you think that you can teach your kids with the “do as I say, NOT as I do” principle, then you’re delusional!

As the youngest of three kids, I regularly watched my father embarrass and humiliate my older brother at the dinner table. I watched him treat my brother as if the poor kid was an idiot. And I learned. Boy did I learn! I learned that if I opened my mouth, the same thing could happen to me. I learned that authority figures will humiliate you the first chance they get. I learned to live in constant fear that this kind of treatment was just around the corner waiting for me in EVERY interaction that I had. And I learned to not trust and be terrified of my father! Did my father have even the slightest clue that this was what he was teaching us? Absolutely NOT! My father was totally unaware and it was his lack of awareness that was so destructive to all of us growing up.

As a consequence of all these early learnings I grew up painfully shy. My father, however, couldn’t understand this. He was always trying to get me to speak up, to be more assertive, to not be so timid. But his verbal attempts to teach me these foreign behaviors fell on deaf ears. I had already learned what happens to you when you’re assertive and speak up! No way was I ever going to put myself in that situation!

When you forget that you’re always teaching your children, and lose awareness of the specific lessons that you’re imparting to them in every interaction, then and only then will you end up getting both them and you into some serious hot water. Example: I talked to a swim coach today who was referring one of his athletes to me. He feared that she was on the verge of burnout and didn’t know what to do for her. She hadn’t taken time off from the sport for several years, swimming almost non-stop year round. She had stopped having fun about 5 years ago, right around the same time that her race times stopped improving. As this coach and I chatted, I was thinking, “stick a fork in her, she’s done! She’s definitely burnt to a crisp.” When I asked for some detail on parental involvement, the real picture quickly emerged.

It turns out that her father had been pushing her to swim ever since she turned 12 and began having some success in the pool. Before then, she was just another average swimmer who loved training and competing, but who wasn’t really that good. When dad got a whiff of how talented his little girl was, he decided that he was going to “help.” He began placing more and more demands on her. If she wanted to take time off and hang out with friends he would discourage it. If she put up a stink about it, he’d make her feel guilty. He kept a close watch on her diet, training and social life. He spent time with her after her meets analyzing her races and making suggestions. He did a lot of things that he thought were helpful. He knew she had talent and he wanted to help her maximize that talent. He wanted her to swim in college.

When the girl weakly protested that he was too over involved, he made her feel guilty for it. He refused to listen to what she was saying and, more important, to what she wasn’t saying. He was totally unaware that she was getting more and more unhappy. He had no clue that swimming was becoming a distasteful chore for her. All he saw was that her times weren’t dropping and chocked that up to her lack of intensity when she trained. So he put more pressure on her to work harder! She lost her motivation. She started just going through the motions. She cried at practice all the time. She wanted to quit, but felt trapped. She desperately wanted to try other high school sports but dad wouldn’t hear of that and made her feel awful just for asking. Didn’t she realize that she would be hurting her swimming career if she did that?

Now, I don’t know how this story will end, but I can certainly make some pretty good educated guesses. If things remain as they are, and dad continues to be totally oblivious to his daughter’s emotional well being because of some crazy need that HE has, then this young woman is heading for some very serious heartache and unhappiness, learning a tremendous amount of destructive lessons along the way. At what point will this poor girl feel that she has to up the ante in order to get her father’s attention? Will she get so desperate that she ends up making a suicidal gesture? She sure sounds pretty depressed to me. At the very least, she will probably quit swimming for good. She has certainly learned to hate the sport over the last five years. And that’s probably the most innocuous lesson she’s internalized. The other things that she’s learning in her current interactions with her dad are lessons no caring, loving parent would ever want a son or daughter learning.

First of all, this young woman is a senior in high school! What has dad been teaching her about trusting yourself, following your heart and listening to your own internal feelings? What’s dad teaching her about being independent and taking care of yourself? Not a whole hell of a lot! Instead this probably well-meaning man is unknowingly teaching his daughter how to be and stay in an abusive relationship! He’s teaching her that it’s not OK to speak up when you’re unhappy and being abused! He’s teaching her to keep her mouth shut, ignore her feelings and passively suffer silently! He’s also providing a lousy male model for her future interpersonal relationships with the opposite sex. Guess what kind of men she’ll unconsciously be attracted to? That’s right, those without an ounce of empathy that use guilt to get what they want!

And another question for you parents out there: Since when should a parent be that over-involved with their 17 year old’s sport? NEVER! That’s not your job! You are NOT the coach or the manager! Your job is to give your soon to be independent young adult full responsibility for his or her sport. It belongs to them, NOT YOU! However, if you insist that you know best and continue to force your opinions and needs on your child, then you’ll be inviting some serious heartache into your home and will end up making your child an excellent candidate for extensive long-term psychotherapy! Sadly, this is exactly where this dad is going with his daughter.

Finally, what is dad teaching his daughter about their relationship? You can trust me? I really care about you and your feelings? Your happiness is what I’m most concerned about? Remember, when you are not aware of what you’re teaching your kids when they’re kids, then YOU will ultimately be the one that suffers later! What kind of relationship do you think this young woman is going to want to have with this kind of a father? Do you think she’s going to want him to play an active role in the life of her children? How close do you think I wanted to be with my dad after growing up in that kind of abusive environment?

If your child is consistently under-achieving or struggling with a performance problem, call me today. I can help! Let’s work together to make 2020 your best year yet.




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