One thing popped out at me after reading two articles about sports parents. The first article was a Q&A from a disgruntled softball dad, the other from a sports psychology expert and golf dad who realized he was being THAT parent. What struck me was the ages of their kids. The softball player was 10 years old and the golfer was seven! Yes, 10 and seven!
Isn’t that a bit young for parents to go completely nuts at their kids games and tournaments? I was surprised that neither parent realized that if their kids stick with sports, they’ve got close to 10 years ahead of them and they might want to pace their emotions. The amount of anxiety and angst these parents go through remind me of myself when my kids were around 10 years old. I saw a spark of talent in their sports abilities and we went hog wild with private lessons, swim camps and frantic cheering at meets.
Here’s a bit of the letter from the baseball dad in “Coaches Keep Putting My Talented 10-Year-Old Catcher in Center Field! A softball dad seeks advice on playing time and sportsmanship,” by Nicole Cliffe in Care and Feeding. You can read the entire outrageous letter here and the pointed, strong response here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 10-year-old daughter, Victoria, has been playing softball for five years and competitive travel ball for four. When she first started and was placed in the outfield, I told her that, even if she would rather be an infielder (who wouldn’t, in youth ball?), she would be the best outfielder she could be. We went to the park on off days for me to hit her fly balls and work on her throwing arm, and she became really good at both skills. It worked, and even coaches from other teams gushed about her ability.
First thought — competitive travel ball for four years — and she’s 10? Is putting your six-year-old child on a travel team considered child abuse? Also, the dad is coaching her during her downtime and working on her throwing arm? Okay, there’s more:
At the end of the 2019 season, another local organization invited Victoria to come play for a team they were putting together just for a major tournament being hosted in their city. They specifically invited her because they heard she was a catcher and they did not have any experienced catchers, and her star pitcher friend recommended her. We paid the (rather substantial) registration fees and went to the somewhat inconvenient practices because it was an opportunity to get catching time, and she was very enthusiastic about it. Apparently, after we agreed to participate, so did another, somewhat less experienced catcher.
The tournament started yesterday, and, of course, she was in center field. I bit my tongue and figured I would make the best of it. She made a running catch of a fly ball and walked, stole a base, and scored in her first (and only) time at-bat. Then, as the game became a bit lopsided, she was benched to get a sub some playing time. Victoria was never reentered as the game became a blowout—the sub got three at-bats and dropped an easy fly ball (although she recovered to throw out the runner at second). I was pissed off and angry—this is a tournament that gives prestigious individual awards for offensive and defensive players, and you can’t win those from the bench—and Victoria knew it. I didn’t say anything to the coach, because I don’t want to be that parent.
I had a beer at lunch and calmed down before we had to reconvene for an evening tournament event where each coach chose four players to represent the team on the field with professional ballplayers. However, when I saw the list of players from our team, I melted down. There were three legitimate choices, and the girl who was subbed in for Victoria. I didn’t think Victoria should be out there—she didn’t have the chance to contribute more, after all—but the kid who struck out twice and botched a play was being recognized?! I basically threw my kid in the car and headed for home. She convinced me to turn around and bring her back because she was worried that her nonpresence would negatively affect the coach’s decisions and she didn’t want to let down her teammates. (So, my kid is a better human being than I ever will be.
Yes, sir. Your kid is a better human being than you are. In fact, it seems she’s the parent and you’re the child. I don’t blame you for being over-the-top, because I was once in your shoes. But now that I’m a “recovering sports parent,” I know that when your daughter is in college you may get a good laugh at your letter. Hopefully, you can step back — sooner rather than later — and let your child take over softball. Cheer for her, support her and tell her you love to watch her play. The writer who answered this question had quite a lot to say.
The other article I read had a parent with expertise in advising other people and he did realize and understand that he was putting too much pressure on his seven-year-old golfer. Rob Bell gives some good tips in the story “How to Stop Being a Terrible Sports Parent. Hint: Quit trying to relive your glory days through your kids.”
My 7-year-old son loves golf. He watches it. He plays it. He wants to be on the course every chance he gets. And while he’s a good golfer, like most, he has his bad days. It is golf after all ⏤ the toughest sport out there. One day during a recent tournament, though, he was having a rough go at it. I was caddying for him and felt bad.
Now, I care about my kids more than anything else in the world, and I want them to succeed and do well. But there is something I value more important than results: It’s effort! He can control his effort and when I could see he wasn’t making it that day, I struggled to watch. He was off. He would be over the ball to hit and would stop and look at me and ask, “Is it my turn?” My frustration built as the round went on. On the eighth hole of our 9-hole round, he did it again. I didn’t yell, but I was stern with him and he started to tear up and said: “Quit yelling at me, daddy.”
Frankly, it didn’t matter if I was or wasn’t yelling, he thought I was yelling and that’s all that matters. During these instances, it’s much easier to destroy our kids’ confidence than it is to build it up. I immediately felt horrible. I broke my own rules. I thought, “Oh, no, I’m a terrible sports parent!” I’m the exact parent I’m usually trying to help. See, I’m a Sports Psychology coach. I work with kids and parents all the time to improve athletic performance. I’ve even written a book on Mental Toughness for sports parents entitled, Don’t “Should” On Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness. And even though I know and preach the utter importance of staying positive, not riding the emotional roller coaster, and focusing on the shot in front of you, here I was yelling at my own flesh and blood.
And I realized that no matter how hard we try, just as our kids make mistakes playing sports, we also make errors as parents watching them.
You can read his valuable tips here.
They are doing okay — in spite of me!
What advice do you have for parents who get overly involved in their children’s sports or activities?