As a father, I catch myself time and time again wanting to push my son mentally and physically. I tell myself it is for his own good, he will thank me for it later, and a little guidance never hurt anyone. I feel content and proud, but his intrinsic drive slows down when I forget about the fun factor.
He is nine and like all other children he wants to have fun! As parents, we want our children to benefit from their own desire to play sports so naturally we also want them to have fun too. Fun keeps them coming back for more. So how can we help our children to overcome obstacles, grow strong, and have fun doing it?
Three components achieve these goals: Patience, trust, and absence. If the child gets it the first time that’s fantastic! If the child gets it the 72nd time that’s fantastic! Time is the only difference and we must replace doubt with patience. If a child falls we can trust that they will hop back up, if a child cries then we can trust that they will dry off, and if a child fails, we must remember that passing is irrelevant when we can trust in the power of having fun.
Parents, how many times have we stumbled around all morning trying to get our children prepared for kick-off? Then we hit traffic on our way to the complex just to finally arrive and discover zero available parking spots. Although we may be dealing with stress, channeling it through shouts and criticisms from the bleachers is down-right unacceptable. When our kids, drowning in their jerseys, cross the chalk-line, it is about them and not us!
Fun and passion share a symbiotic relationship. The fun experienced during a particular activity creates passion to revisit that experience. The passion in return fuels us to always find more and more fun. Passion has the tendency to be very fragile at times, however. It’s quite ironic actually. Passion can finish marathons, design symphonies, and produce legacies in sport and art, but it can snap like a twig. If our children show passion for something, we become delighted! We think how wonderful it will be to get them outside, running around, enjoying life, and having fun. But what if Sally runs faster than Johnny? Wait, what if Parker starts on the bench and James starts on the field? What if my son isn’t prepared enough? STOP with the “what ifs”! At a pre-pubescent age, a smile on their face means they are most definitely prepared. It’s natural to compare others to yourself and other children to your children. Just try to remember that you are not your child and if you compromise their passion by trying to inflate a sense of pride, then they won’t get off the couch as quickly next weekend. They won’t play with their team, because it’s not fun anymore. They won’t smile, because it became about you and not them. Patience over pride keeps that smile on their face.
Some of the most rewarding minutes we experience with our children come from the intimate home-training sessions in the back yard, watching them gradually get better, and then watching their self-esteem rise. We may teach them some new tricks, we may bring them to see the pros, or we may constantly reinforce the idea that they will get there some day. With all our effort exerted, it’s hard not to get a little worked up and feel involved in the game, the team, and the sport. We may find ourselves that weekend yelling things like, “Watch the ball, Watch the ball”, “Hey, just like we practiced at home…”, “Faster, Faster!”, or, “Make up your mind son. Focus!” We think we are helping, but in reality we are not. The coach is thinking that you are taking his job, at least two or three other parents are barely tolerating your intrusiveness, and practically only half your words are even heard by your child. Trusting our kids to evolve into the athlete we hope they will starts at this age. Micro-managing from the bleachers is not trusting in them.
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” -William James
Children want us to see them succeed, they thrive off positive feedback, and they will come to do magnificent things in their life simply to be appreciated by us. If they score a goal, they will demand our attention and smile during our acknowledgement. On the other hand, if they miss a shot, a pass, a tackle, or a touch, your attention is far from desired. Your absence can actually be more constructive at this point. I don’t mean your physical absence, but your emotional/verbal absence. Taking a step back and allowing children to better understand their own ideas of what a bad play, bad game, or bad season means to them allows them to cope more effectively with the realities of sport. Let the coach handle the team and the players. If we feel like saying something to boost their spirits, it’s best to refrain from phrases such as, “Hey, buddy”, or “Hey, Darling, you all played great out there! Maybe next time….K?”. This may dilute their perception of what doing their best means. If you say they did great, but they know they could have done more then they may start perceiving a 75% effort as acceptable, or “great”. Instead, try asking, “How do you feel about the game?” And just be there to listen. If they say, “I tried my best, but that team was really good”, they have found the core or what sports are all about: Doing our best! If they didn’t, at least they are not left thinking they did “great” In other words, our emotional absence can enhance their ability to recognize their own mistakes, fix them, and build a solid, self-perpetuating passion to improve.
Patience, trust, and absence do work. In the end, you had your time to play and now it’s theirs. Let them play. Let them go. It’s not about us; It is all about them!