I was itching to get off the sideline and into “the game.” I have enjoyed watching my kids compete in club and high school athletics for many years from the bleacher vantage point. I have been supportive, serving in a variety of roles such as team mom, fundraiser and publicist. However, I was ready for a team of my own. When the opportunity arose I “leaped before looking” and took the gig as a high school tennis coach.
I loved coaching my kids in 6-10-year-old youth soccer, softball, baseball, basketball and tennis. At that age kids are eager to learn. They are excited to try new skills and easily brush off errors. It’s all about the snack after the game and parents are very supportive. By high school kids are harder on themselves and parents are anxious. The pressure mounts on kids, and parents are eager to see progress and performance. High school athletics is an emotional universe away from the carefree days of hit and giggle ball.
What I’ve learned through the tryout phase and pre-season is that most kids are harder on themselves than any coach or parent. They are eager for feedback. They want to please and improve. They want to develop a relationship of trust with their coach. After a tough match I stood with an athlete as she asked me what she could have done differently. All athletes want to win and losing is hard, but she was ready for feedback. During our conversation her father walked up and immediately provided a critique of her game. The athlete flinched, the moment disappeared and the student was no longer ready to learn.
The dad was very well-meaning and he was a great supporter of his daughter, but the timing was not good. The last time I coached I was not a parent and this recent situation was very insightful. Here is what I’ve learned from my athletes about being a better sports parent:
- Immediately after a game comment on the effort, not the result.
- Wait for your child to initiate the conversation after a game. If they won, they will most likely want to talk right away. If they lost it may take an hour; it may even take a day. Be patient.
- Don’t make your child feel guilty about the money and time you have invested in their sport. As a parent you had free will to decide this.
- Kids try their hardest and do their best based on what is going on in their life at that moment. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Your children love to have you come watch them play. They may not want your feedback.
It’s so much easier to see what to do in a game when you are not in the action. Who knew my time as a coach would give me so many parenting lessons. I wish I had done this sooner.
Carol Lewis Gullstad March 11, 2013