I had been talking to my new friend Thomas for about 5 minutes at a Christmas party before the conversation turned to our kids. We found that we shared an interest in coaching as well as being a good parent. After exchanging stories, we decided that you know what? Parenting is hard! He summed it up nicely: “The more I do this, the more I realize I am just a student of parenting.”
The notion of being a “student of parenting” struck a resonant chord with me. I played sports all my life, coached for 20 years and refereed for a couple years. And most recently, a sports parent for 6 years. In my early days, I know what advice I gave people on sports parenting, and could easily tell them what to do. But, as with most things in life, it didn’t hit me until I experienced it for myself: “This is harder than it looks!”
That’s what my new friend learned, too. He’d been through a rough upbringing and work in a social worker environment where parenting was downright awful. He is determined to be the best dad he can be. Our paths had been different, but we had arrived in the same place: no, we’re not perfect, but we’re aware. Aware that we want the best for our kids, aware that we are not always doing what’s best for our kids, and aware that we can continue to adjust, learn, and grow.
Students learn and improve over time, and take an active role in doing so. As athletes grow, gain experience, and learn their sport, they improve. They find ways to be better than that were before. They learn what works and what doesn’t. Parents can do this too!
Many parents who are new to sports parenting may act poorly or make bad decisions not because they are bad people, but because they have no experience. Make sure that you are aware that your behavior has a great impact on the mindset of your kids, and thus their performance. As your athlete grows and improves, it’s crucial that you take an active role in improving as well.
Here’s an example of what happens if you don’t grow with your athlete. Kevin, a high school basketball/football player I worked with was having a really hard time with his dad. The dad, Aaron, thought Kevin was just having trouble with focus and confidence, and brought him in to have me help re-build the confidence he once had. During our first meeting, it became clear to me that the problem mainly as a communication issue between the two. The problem turned out to be this:
Kevin was getting increasingly more nervous/frustrated/distracted by his dad in the stands. In turn, Aaron got frustrated/anxious/upset at his son’s below average performance, and what he saw as lack of effort and focus. As we talked it became clear that the interpersonal patterns developed in the younger years did not grow and change as the player matured. At age 5, the player would make a basket, look up at his dad with a “hey dad, did you see that!?” look, to which the dad responded with cheers. Fast forward to age 15, and this same interaction became player making a basket and being embarrassed to do the same. However, a missed a basket or mistake made him look up at the parent expecting a look of disappointment.
Together we decided that Kevin was to remain focused solely on the court, and wasn’t allowed to look up in the stands at his dad any more. Aaron agreed to sit in a more inconspicuous place in the gym. Also, they decided to both cool down emotionally after games, and would not talk about the game until after dinner that night. As the player and father both realized the patterns that had been developed, they were able to agree on solutions, making Aaron a better and more supportive sports parent, and Kevin a more focused and confident performer.
When to push? When to ease off? When to ask questions, and when to leave well enough alone? When are we making the sport more about us, and not enough about the person playing it: our kids? If you are consistently asking yourself these questions and reflecting on them, you are already doing a great job! You are being a student. If not, if you just assume that what’s worked in the past should work now, you need to start asking the questions. As John O’Sullivan says in his book Changing the Game Project, there is no owner’s manual for kids. It is up to us to make sure we are learning, growing, and adapting.
Here are some ways to be a “Student of Parenting”:
1) Actively seek out articles weekly. The internet, Facebook, and other social media are great ways to keep sports parenting in the front of your mind.. I find it really helpful to follow Changing the Game Project and on Facebook.
2) Read a book on sports parenting. I’d suggest John O’Sullivan’s Changing the Game or Tom Morin’s No More Broken Eggs.
3) Set up an appointment with a SPINw consultant. We not only work with athletes individually, but we do private work with parents and coaches too. With all athletes under the age of 18, parents are a big part of the process.
4) Bring a SPINw consultant into your club or school meeting to present a Sports Parent Education workshop.
5) Coming soon at SPINw: Download the The Sports Parent Mindset Gameplan