After months of staying late at the office to put together a stellar proposal, the big day arrives to pitch the deal. But it doesn’t go as planned: you mess up and it costs you the new account. Disheartened, you come home to your spouse, expecting welcoming arms and unconditional love. Instead, you get:
You should have tried harder.”
“Wow. All that hard work and you blew it.”
Ouch. Your spouse’s response stings, doesn’t it? What you needed was to be greeted with compassion. Instead, piled on to your feelings of inadequacy is frustration at your partner’s reaction.
Now a thought experiment: substitute your child’s last sporting event for the above work scenario. Do any of the spouse’s comments resemble what you might say to your child after a disappointing performance on the football or soccer field, in the pool or on the volleyball court? If so, it’s time to reevaluate your sports parenting skills.
Just as you need a soft place to land after a disappointing performance at work, your children will thrive when you provide them with unconditional love. In fact, the greatest determining factor for children to have positive and fun sports experiences is linked to the attitudes of their parents. Your kids look to you for support, not coaching or advice on their batting technique.
“The emotional support that athletes need from their parents comes down to two things: encouragement and unconditional love,” says Morgan Cordle, head coach of 757swim, a year-round swim club in Williamsburg, Va. “When parents try to give advice about how to compete, it confuses their swimmer. Should they listen to their dad or their coach? It also makes it harder for the coach to do their job when they have to help a swimmer overcome pressure and expectations from their parents, instead of focusing on their race.”
When competing, your athlete is already managing things such as nutrition, hydration, stretching and relationships with teammates, in addition to listening to the coach, focusing on techniques and maybe even performance anxiety.
Manage Your Emotions
Winning is fun. But you are negatively impacting your relationship when you care more about winning the game than about your child. When you let go of worrying about coaching your athlete, giving advice and managing their performance, you allow them to learn how to cope in their own way. This also allows you to enjoy the beauty of the race. Manage your emotions by trying one of these:
- Get your own exercise during the game warm-up. Expending your energy will calm you down.
- Get all of your frustrations about the game out of your head before they escape from your mouth. Text them to yourself. Go to the car and call a friend to vent.
- Compete in a sport. This will remind you how hard it is.
- Make a screensaver reminder: encouragement & unconditional love
What to Say Before and After the Game
If you usually give your child an analysis of their race before they can even say hello, then you will need to make a big adjustment in order to improve your sports parenting. It will be worth it because the payoff is a more connected relationship with your child.
Your messages should either be those of encouragement or unconditional love.
Before the game you can say:
- Have fun!
- Give it your all!
- You’ve got this!
After the Game, Give a Hug and Say:
- I loved watching you swim/run that sprint/dribble around that guy.
- Great job! Want to go get some ice cream?
- I’m proud of you; that was a tough game.
The Ride Home
It’s tempting to talk about the game on the ride home, but don’t. Let your child be your guide. If they want to talk about a proud moment or a frustration, listen, validate and go back to your basics: encouragement or unconditional love. Just like having a long day at the office, they may need a break to “just be a kid.”
Remember: you drive your kids to practice, buy their equipment and do all you can to help them reach their potential. Resist the temptation to interfere with your advice. The best thing you can do is to step aside and let them do their thing. Athletes excel when they have the security of knowing they are competing for themselves, not to earn their parents’ approval.