Parents initially get involved in their children’s sports with the hopes that they can help their son or daughter have a rewarding and successful life experience. In general, they hope that their child will have fun, learn a ton of valuable athletic and life skills and be successful. Unfortunately, somewhere in this process of “being helpful,” parents begin to inadvertently do far more damage than good. They get over-involved with their child’s training and performance, they become highly critical after their child’s competitive performances fail to meet their own expectations and the unintended end result of this is a devastating empathic failure that does damage to the well-being and happiness of their child, not to mention the long term health of the parent-child relationship.
In the beginning the fights may seem to simply be about how much time the child is or isn’t putting into practicing. Maybe they want to play with their friends too much or maybe they “don’t care enough” about “getting good.” Very soon the parent feels he/she has to coach and critique the child after each practice session or else the child will miss out on important learnings. After all, you certainly don’t want to “waste” invaluable practice time goofing around or executing poorly. Rides home from practice soon become a “one way street” kind of conversation with the parent “helpfully” pointing out all the things that the child did wrong that day in practice.
These rides to and from practice or games may quickly deteriorate into arguments as the child feels attacked and unfairly criticized. Parents often pull out the guilt card here, explaining that they’re only trying to “be helpful.” Often parents will show their visible displeasure with their child’s poor outing by angrily withdrawing. The child, realizing that mom or dad is unhappy with them and has withdrawn their love, often times is left feeling panicked. Very quickly the fun leaves the sport and is replaced by intense, all-consuming feelings of unhappiness and dread.
At this point mom and dad have totally and completely lost their perspective. They have made the sport, an insignificant-in-the-long-run children’s game, far more important than the well-being and happiness of their child. They have totally lost sight of the impact of their behavior on their child’s feelings of love and security in relation to them. They speak to their child in the “language of the sport,” i.e. proper mechanics, timing, strategy, commitment, hard work, etc. and their child doesn’t hear a word that they’re saying. Why isn’t the child listening? Because the child is experiencing that their emotional survival is at stake. Mom and dad are angry and upset and have withdrawn their love and approval. The resultant anxiety trumps everything else!
When you interact with your son or daughter about their back handspring on beam, the fact that they seem scared every time that they step up to the plate, that they never take the open shot, fall apart on the back 9 in those big tournaments or can’t throw the ball back to the pitcher PLEASE REMEMBER, what’s at stake here has little to do with the sport and EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THEIR HAPPINESS AND FEELINGS OF BEING LOVED.
If you make your child perform for your love and approval, then you will be severely damaging both your child and, in the long term, your relationship with them. This is not and should NEVER be about the sport. This is about you, your child and your relationship with them. It should be very simply about LOVE! Your love for your child and their love for you. If you are oblivious to this fact, if you allow yourself to get blinded by the glitter of “winning” or “being the best,” then you will be inviting a lot of tears, unhappiness and serious into your home.
The following poem, written from a father’s perspective, highlights this:
© By: Mike Hall
I wish that I could take back
the scathing words that spewed
from me to you like a volcano
rushing down a mountain
Would that I could put my arm
around you and say no worries….
it’s only a game…that I could run to
you and dry the tears you cried
huddled alone in the backseat
I wish I realized the power of words
How they can hurt or help
heal the wounds that young kids
can’t cure by themselves
Would that I could have fathomed
the despair and anger you felt
and how painful it was for a kid of nine
to endure a weekend of sadness…..alone in his room
I wish I could go back like an instant replay
and change my perspective about
victory and defeat
That I could greet you with a hug
and words of comfort and consolation
Would that you could have, with my help,
bounced back immediately to enjoy
post game popsicles and a poolside
party with friends on Saturday
I wish I had the wisdom and courage
to say I’m sorry….I overreacted…..
and I love you win or lose….no matter what….
forever and ever
Would that hindsight was foresight
and that insight could have stopped the
volcano that was me that day
I was your coach…..and father
and I should have known better
I’m gone now and wish I could speak
to you from my new home
I’d tell you that I love you and that
I am with you when you castigate yourself
with words more venomous than mine
It’s only a game I’d say
You are so much more than the score
I wish you peace my son
and thank you for understanding
and forgiving the reckless reaction
of so long ago