Dad, what example should I follow?
I’m at home with my son and we’ve had a major disagreement. In other words we’ve had a fight. It’s probably got something to do with baseball but with so many father-son disagreements over the years, I can’t remember the exact issue of this encounter.
Life in and around baseball is front and center of both of our lives. It is the reason for most of the temporary rifts between us. I hope some of you can relate to this and I’m not leaving myself hanging out there on a limb.
I still remember when he was eight and I first carried out an act of discipline and stopped him from training one night with his under-ten team. He was so upset and inconsolable that he threatened me that I ruined his baseball career. I was glad I had his coach’s blessing to make my point.
However, I digress.
When my son gets angry with me, I realize he is now imitating the way I express my anger. I witness the same stubbornness, forcefulness, and tone of voice that has been with me for years. In fact, it scares me at times when I reflect that I sometimes sound like my own father when I lose my temper.
Where am I going with all of this you may ask?
Our kids learn more from our example than we think. And some of the examples I see from myself and other parents around the baseball diamonds are a real eye opener to what we’re passing onto them.
And don’t let us fool ourselves, they are watching and hearing everything, whether on a conscious or subconscious level.
They see our actions and hear our comments from the sidelines and the drive home after the game. They hear the snide and critical remarks in the privacy of our homes. They soak up the threats and frustrations that show this is more than a game to us and we are taking it a lot more personally than they are.
The comments are pointed towards the umpires, team positions, or the way the game is being controlled. But most of the time the biggest gripe parents have is towards the child’s current coach. If you think you are still innocent in this area you are either not paying any attention to the game or are just starting your parent-baseball-career with your child in under-sixes.
So, Dad, what example should I follow?
Generally, everything is fine with us if our child is fielding in his chosen position. Everything is fine when our child is hitting the ball and getting on base. (Except, of course, when there are perceived ‘non-batters’ following your child that leave him stranded on base) And everything is all dandy when our child is on the field on a regular basis.
(A side note here: everything changes when your son or daughter makes it to representative level baseball. You may perceive your child to be of a certain standard and where they sit in the pecking order. The coaches have been chosen to win the game at hand. They put what they perceive is a winning formula on the park. Your child may or may not be a big part in that formula.
This is a hard one for our egos to handle. And we all take it personally at times. Our kids are no longer under our protection of us trying to make them feel good. We find it hard to let go and we say and do things we know we shouldn’t. We cry out for fairness and proclaim to any other suffering comrade within earshot how the team should be managed)
Forgive me; I digressed again. Back to the action.
We ultimately pass on our frustrations to our kids and they witness this is how to deal with authority and not getting our way. This is a hard pill to swallow.
Dad, what example should I follow?
My son has been fortunate that he does have a lot of game time. He does have a favourite position, but it isn't always that simple. In club ball, he plays it, but in representative baseball he doesn’t. He wants to pitch more but he is rarely given that opportunity. That’s life and the coach will field him and bat him where the coach needs him. His disagreements mainly come from more subtle things that happen in a game; from what one coach may say in contrast to another coach on how the game is played.
The teaching I give to my son and the example I want to set is this: the coach is always right!
I asked him over the dinner table one day, what benefit would it be for you or the team if you disagree or don’t respect your coach? What benefit is it to you and the team if you are moody and showing your disagreement out there on the field?
The answer was none. No benefit.
Therefore, I told him, no matter who your coach is, at whatever level, the coach is always right. When it comes to how to play the game on the field or what time you have on the park it is the coach's prerogative and how he sees the game. I told him, I’m not ever going to interfere and say my opinion to try to change his mind.
In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.
But you don’t understand, you might even say something like: my child has a poor coach and he treats my child unfairly. The coach doesn’t understand the game like I do. He’s got the players in all the wrong positions -– definitely mine in the wrong position -– and I don’t like the way he talks to them...
You’re right, I don’t know your coach. He may have inadequate knowledge of the game; he may have a hard time with the players; some may be getting more game time than yours; he may not have your child in the right position; he may have a different perspective of the game to you and probably a different perspective of your child; he may favour his child over yours...
What example should I follow, Dad?
Not long ago, I tried to help my son by encouraging him to try different angles on how to disagree with his coach. I soon realised this was not helping him. What I was really teaching was disrespect to coaches, arrogance towards authority, and that he knows more and he should be treated differently.
Here I was trying to be as diplomatic and respectful as I thought and, yet, I’m sending the opposite message to what I really wanted him to learn: the coach is always right!
We hate hearing this, don’t we?
I’m not advocating that the coach’s approach is always right, or that his lifestyle and manner is perfect, either. But when it comes to the game, training, and when your child is under his wing, he is in charge and what he says goes.
The test for our children and how ultimately they will mature into adults will be what they firstly see and hear from us. The way they respond to difficult or ‘unfair’ situations will be a reflection on what they perceive from us -- this is a tough truth.
If you’re not sure how you are being perceived by your child and what principles you are passing on, then take a step back and observe them. The excuse that they are just kids and they’ll grow out of it won’t last long. If you are really brave and humble, ask someone else’s opinion on how you come across. Not someone who will placate to you, they can be found anywhere.
I look back in my life and there are many occasions that I know I’ve been a poor example to my son. I do regret the times when I’ve allowed my frustrations and my big fat ego to rule my tongue and attitude. At times, I want to say to my son to grow up, but really, it is me who needs to grow up and be mature. It is me who needs to set a good example for him to follow.
Dad, what example should I follow? Let’s start with our own examples.
There’ll be many examples our kids will follow in life, but it starts with ours at home. It’s never too late to change our perspective of life, authority, and baseball.
And, remember, it’s never too late for our children to be proud of the fine role models we are striving to set for them.