“Your children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them in with your favorite colors.” ~Dr. Wayne Dyer
Yes we are that family that loves sports, all sports. We love to watch and play sports, we even compete, sometimes too seriously, against each other in our own backyard. But one thing we never forget is to have fun. Some families like to read, play board games, make music or art together. Since we all lack talent pretty much in all those categories, we play. We have fun. So as many times as we’ve watched our kids’ teams win or lose, as frustrating as it may be we remind them that sports should be fun. And more importantly it should be THEIR fun, not OURS.
Years ago we were those sports parents who tried to talk to our kids after practice or a game. Whether the outcome was positive or negative, we felt the need to have a discussion. Looking back, I really think we thought we were being helpful by sharing our insight and talking things through. Turns out we weren’t. Several years back I remember my then 10 year-old glaring at us as we began to discuss a particularly bad game he had. He looked his dad straight in the eyes after he rambled for 10 minutes and said, “How long is this life lesson going to be? I just want to be prepared.” That was about the same time I went to my first youth sports seminar and listened to sports-life coach David Benzel talk about how to be an effective sports parent. I remember sitting there thinking to myself, “Wow, we’re doing everything wrong.”
Things changed in our house for awhile and we didn’t talk so much as submit little bits of wisdom on short car rides or walks with the dog. But we quickly realized the kids didn’t always want to discuss their sports life with us. And then an amazing thing happened. We shut up. And guess what? The kids started coming to us. They suddenly wanted to talk about a practice or game, a bad play they made, frustration over a new drill, confrontation with a teammate, or ideas on how to approach their coach. So we sat and we listened, and we listened. And we bit our tongues…A LOT!
Sadly, not all sports parents learn this lesson early enough, or at all. One night about a year ago I was jogging on the soccer field while our oldest daughter was practicing. I passed a dad yelling at his young son who was all of 8 years-old at the time. The boy had tears streaming down his face. It was dark and all the younger players were already home in bed. Not this little one, he was still there training one-on-one with his dad, getting reamed out in the process. On my 4th lap around the field he was still training and still crying. I smiled at him, but he looked down. My heart broke. He was not having “fun”.
Maybe this kid will be the next Messi or Ronaldo, or maybe he’ll get burned out at 12 and quit. But one important thing hit me that night. Even if that kid makes it big, what kind of relationship will he have with his father? Will they even be speaking when he’s 18? Will he thank his dad in a victory speech after a match? I don’t know.
What I do know is this. Creating a safe environment at home for our kids has been critical. They receive enough feedback, positive and negative from their coaches and peers. They don’t need it repeated from us. And although it’s very, very hard not to step in sometimes, I know their path must be theirs, not ours. So we keep our mouths shut and trust that this is all part of their life plan. And in those tough moments when they aren’t having fun, we know they are still drawing their own picture. So we sit and we cheer them on and try not to connect their dots, highlight what we think is the right choice and allow them to color outside their own lines. Even if the scribbling makes us crazy.