What happens when parents are over-controlling?

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My daughter, teary-eyed in royal blue.

I believe it was easier to raise toddlers than young twenty-somethings. The reason why can be explained in one simple word: control. I had total control when my kids were babies. Yes, I was a wee bit tired, but hey, I’m tired today. I realize now I have very little say so. I no longer get to decide what my kids eat, what activities they do, who their friends are, what they wear and when they go to bed. I look back fondly on the days when I could tell my kids what to do and they’d do it. I wrote a SwimSwam story about 10 Things Parents Can and Cannot Control.

Of course, I’m not “raising” my twenty-somethings anymore. In theory, they’re raised and my job is done. My job now is more of a sounding board. And they take my advice from time to time, but not always. I worry a lot about them, but they are okay. It stresses me out when I give advice and they don’t take it. After all, I do know a few things about life. Of course, life doesn’t work in a straight line without some ups and downs along the way, although I expect and want my children’s lives to be perfect.

If I look back closely on my kids as toddlers, I will admit that I didn’t have total control. Toddlerhood is when they begin to test the boundaries. And my two kids pushed back from time to time. For example, we had a car without door locks and my toddler son could open the door while I was driving. Thank the Lord for the car seat! I tried to explain to him in words he could understand, that if he opened the door while I was driving he could go “splat” on the road. For the next few days, he’d open the door and yell “SPLAT! Mommy SPLAT!” and giggle uncontrollably. 

With my daughter, I really wanted her to love ballet. I wanted more than anything to be a dance mom. My daughter hated it. She thought I was punishing her by making her dress in tights and a leotard when it was scorching hot outside. Her brother got dropped off at the pool with the swim team, and that looked like way more fun to her. My daughter’s ballet teacher pulled me aside one day and said, “I know your daughter has the ability, but she stands at the barres and refuses to do anything.”

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I took ballet lessons as a child but when I lost a ballet slipper at age 11 or 12, my mom said, “I can tell you aren’t really interested” and she took me out of ballet class. The biggest issue with my ballet class, wasn’t the missing ballet slipper. She enrolled me in the Bellevue Ballet School with Gwenn Barker, which was a 45-minute drive from Snohomish, our home town. My mom always believed in the finding the best of everything, and I had no idea how great a teacher Ms. Barker was until I ran across her obit and read her life accomplishments. Mom had to pick me up from school before the bell, with some fabricated note of why I needed to be excused–which the school figured out pretty quickly. Then, it was a hassle when I moved from ballet class one day a week up to three or four days a week. So the missing ballet slipper was the nail in the coffin to my dancing.

But, I loved it enough that when I went to the University of Washington, I enrolled in ballet from day one. After I moved to So Cal, I enrolled in ballet at the local community college and eventually at a dance troupe downtown Palm Springs. As I got older, my bones and joints found swimming to be a good substitute. In the end, my daughter and I both ended up as swimmers. Funny how that worked.

What I’m trying to say through all the reminiscing, is we really can’t control what our children do and it’s not healthy for them for us to try. We need to support them in their passions, even if they might not be ours. We need to let them take ownership and learn from their decisions and actions. Just my two cents worth.

What are your thoughts about controlling our children’s lives and letting go?

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When did “playing” turn into “performing?”

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

My daughter in the yellow cap.

Back in the ancient days when I was growing up, all our neighborhood kids gathered in the evenings on our dead-end street playing work-up softball. I was one of the younger kids at five or six years old while the kids controlling the game were in junior high and high school. I stood for countless hours in the outfield and never once made it up to bat. The big kids were at the pitcher’s mound, catcher, short stop, first base and swinging the bat, of course. It did bother me that I never left the outfield before our moms would stick their heads out their kitchen doors and call us in for supper. But, I was happy to be included with the big kids. We were playing a game. And guess what? There were no coaches, no officials, no parent volunteers and not a single parent watching!

Fast forward to today and you don’t see kids playing pick up games around the neighborhoods. They aren’t playing football, softball, basketball or any games at all. Instead, moms and dads drive their kids to ball fields, swimming pools, gyms, etc. to practice with other kids on organized teams. These teams have coaches, referees, uniforms, fees and parents. Yes, parents are all over the place — watching, volunteering, providing snacks — and in some sports, coaching.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing in itself. I just miss the days when kids played outside. Of course, kids in my day and age were on teams, too — but they also had time to play without adult supervision just for the fun of it with their friends.

What happens when kids aren’t out playing with their friends, but instead are playing in front of an audience of overly involved adults? Playing becomes performing. Parents are sitting watching their kids’ practices and more than ready to give them the full low down critique on the drive home. At meets and games, parents fill the stands and are yelling, cheering, pacing and showing their displeasure at officials’ calls, other kids that are competing and even their own kids. They are also ecstatic when their kids do well. I should know since I went through the gamut of emotions myself with my two kids.

I didn’t realize that kids aren’t out playing on their own these until I read a book called “Why LESS is MORE for WOSPs* — *Well-Intentioned, Overinvolved Sports Parents” by John M. Tauer, Ph.D. Because my kids were swimmers and we have to take them to the pool for their sport, I didn’t notice the lack of kids playing in the park. Dr. Tauer, a psychologist and college basketball coach, talks about how kids he coached in a summer basketball camp would rather sit on the bench than play in a game without adult officials. He had five groups of kids rotating in four games with officials. He gave the kids a choice to sit out the fifth game or else play the fifth game on their own. All of the kids chose to sit it out, mainly because they had no experience just “playing” without adults supervising.

From the book:

“One of the consequences of parental involvement is that parents watch many of the games their kids play. That means many parents know if Billy has been in a hitting slump, if Jenny has been struggling with her shooting, or if Tommy made a mistake that allowed the winning goal. Thus, children may feel their performance is being evaluated and monitored not just by teachers and their parents, as with school, but also by their peers and other parents. Instead of playing, children are performing, which can undermine one of the major goals of sports. This shift from playing to performing affects both children and parents negatively. Most children don’t take math exams with dozens of parents watching, cheering, hollering, encouraging, yelling, or even criticizing the performance. Imagine how odd it would be to see parents show up for exams at school and then spend hours dissecting their child’s performance at home. Why then, do we accept those same behaviors as normal for WOSP’s at sporting events?”

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My son in front wearing the yellow cap.

Some interesting things to think about: Why do you think we’ve shifted in our society to no longer letting kids play to having them perform? Have children changed so drastically through the years, or is it our parenting? I’d like to hear your opinions, so please share your thoughts.

One Tip for Parents: Don’t Speak

 

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My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

 

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead,” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

 

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Cheering on a teammate at the PAC 12 Champs.

 

 

How to Teach Your Kids Good Sportsmanship

 

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Open Water Nats–being good sports after a close 5k race.

 

Nobody likes a sore loser and I think it’s even worse to have a gloating winner. In an article on CNN called “If I Were a Parent: Teaching kids to be good sports” by Kelly Wallace, the number one way to teach good sportsmanship is through role modeling.

“Losing is not easy for many kids, and being a graceful winner can in some ways be even harder, so the question becomes: what can parents do to teach their children good sportsmanship?

“Rule No. 1 seems simple enough but is too often overlooked by helicopter parents who are living vicariously through their children. Parents should model the behavior they want to see in their kids, said John O’Sullivan, author of “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.”

“Kids are not very good at listening, but they are fantastic at imitating,” said O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, which says it seeks to “put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ “

“And so if you want your kids to display good sportsmanship, you should. If you don’t want your kids to yell at referees, you shouldn’t yell at referees.”

The article goes on to talk about the flip side, lousy winners:

“And as for teaching your child how to win and win gracefully, remind them how it felt when they were on the losing side. “The biggest thing that I always say to my team when you’re winning by a lot is, ‘you know what, you’ve been on the other side of it where you’ve lost by a lot. Do you remember how that felt? So don’t do anything that’s going to make your opponent feel any worse right now,’ ” O’Sullivan said.

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Cheering on a teammate.

What do we mean when we talk about being a good sport? It’s easy to point out kids and parents who aren’t. They are mean, rude, usually loud and they do not care about how they affect those around them. Parents who are bad sports are causing fights these days with coaches and landing in jail! With social media catching every incident of bad parent behavior, it seems like it’s happening more frequently, but I haven’t seen any stats to know if that true or not.

 

Being a good sport is simple. It’s treating others with respect. It’s not talking badly about others behind their backs or throwing your equipment down. I remember when my brother was on the golf team in high school, there was a player that broke their golf clubs more than once when they lost. Staying composed and not getting too caught up in the moment helps us be better role models. In our kids’ sports, the process is just as important–or more so–than winning.

I think another important element in teaching good sportsmanship, besides being good role models, is to compliment our kids when you see them being a good sport. In swimming after races, you often see swimmers reaching over lane lines to hug the winner or you see the winner reaching out to competitors to shake hands. When you see your child being a good sport, point it out and say you’re proud of them. If you see other kids showing good sportsmanship, be sure to tell your child how much you admire them for their actions.

How do you teach your children good sportsmanship?

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My daughter showing good sportsmanship.

 

Who knew youth sports was a $15 billion industry?

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My daughter racing, a few years ago.

Who knew that the youth sports industry in the United States has turned into a $15 billion a year industry? According to Time Magazine’s Sean Gregory, “Across the nation, kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth-sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros at increasingly early ages.”

As a swim mom, I understand how easy it is to get swept up in kids sports. “Before Swimming” is how we refer to the years before club swimming took over our lives. “BS” we used to take ski vacations in Snowmass, CO and ski weekends in Big Bear. I took my son and daughter to youth tennis where they laughed and ran around with their friends. My son tried Cub Scouts and my daughter went to ballet.

They did a number of activities back in those days. Then they both fell in love with the pool. After taking lessons for water safety since they were six months old, my son around age seven was skilled enough to join the Piranha Swim Team. We were so proud! Then my daughter soon followed and every evening we found ourselves with other parents around the pool deck.

During my daughter’s high school years, I’d add up the costs of swimming just to see….I won’t give you a figure—but with dues of $160 per month, private lessons, and hotel stays at travel meets, and meals out, it added up. Then we came up with the brilliant plan of buying an RV to avoid the hotel costs and restaurants. Thing is….we never used it for a meet. It never seemed to be convenient.

From the Time article called “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry:”

“The cost for parents is steep. At the high end, families can spend more than 10% of their income on registration fees, travel, camps and equipment. Joe Erace, who owns a salon and spas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, says Joey’s budding baseball career has cost north of $30,000. A volleyball dad from upstate New York spent $20,000 one year on his daughter’s club team, including plenty on gas: up to four nights a week she commuted 2½ hours round-trip for practice, not getting home until 11:30 p.m. That pales beside one Springfield, Mo., mom, who this summer regularly made a seven-hour round-trip journey to ferry her 10- and 11-year-old sons to travel basketball practice. Others hand their children over entirely. A family from Ottawa sent their 13-year-old to New Jersey for a year, to increase his ice time on the travel hockey circuit. A sponsor paid the teen’s $25,000 private-school tuition. This summer, 10 boys from across the U.S. stayed with host families in order to play for a St. Louis–based travel baseball club.”

I enjoyed reading the Time magazine article and I agree with most of the parents who are interviewed. If your child is passionate about their sport, it’s natural to do everything you can to help them out. My life soon got absorbed by the team. I was writing the newsletter, press releases, fliers to hand out at schools. Soon, I was serving on the board, planning banquets, fundraisers, organizing goodie bags and buying year-round gifts. I remember breaking down in tears when I had to chase one parent down to do a minimum of a few hours volunteering at a meet—and he refused. He refused loudly and rudely. But then, I also remember early on when our family was asked to help at a meet with set-up and tear-down and we told the president of the team, “Sorry, but we have a life.” I guess we did, but that was “Before Swimming.”

I don’t regret a moment of my swim parenting days, though. I’d do it all over again.

Are you involved in the $15 billion youth sports phenomenon? What sports do your kids participate in and how involved are you as a sports parent?

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Third place relay at Junior Olympics, 9-10 age group.

 

The story of a star quarterback whose parents let him be a kid

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My husband asked me to read a story from the Bleacher Report about USC Quarterback Sam Darnold. I put him off for a day because frankly, I wasn’t that interested. I finally read it to appease him and found Sam’s story to be fascinating—mainly because of the parenting style of Mike and Chris Darnold.

From childhood through high school, Sam played basketball, football, and baseball. I think he played volleyball, too. His parents let him try and decide what sports he participated in. They didn’t make him specialize or get him private lessons or coaches. In fact, Sam believes his success in football is from playing all different sports and learning a variety of skills. In a refreshing story written by Jeff Perlman, you find out about a dying breed of parents—ones who believe in fun and no pressure. Parents who let their child lead his own life.

“USC’s star quarterback and his parents do not live by the LaVar Ball theory of the universe. They let a multisport supernova grow up into his own man. And that’s why this 20-year-old might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.”

Yet the story of Sam Darnold isn’t the story of the modern quarterback, loud and sparkly and created to own the internet’s 24-hour hype machine. Nope, it’s the story of a young man on the verge of superstardom because, not long ago, he was allowed to diversify.

He was allowed to be a kid.

The Darnolds’ Capistrano Beach household is in the heart of south Orange County, where there are youth sports leagues atop leagues atop leagues, and private coaches atop private coaches atop private coaches.

In Orange County, it’s not uncommon for a nine-year-old pitcher to throw sliders and curveballs nine or 10 months of the year—with a father behind the backstop holding a radar gun. It’s not uncommon for a quarterback to play Pop Warner, then a season of flag and then spend the summer under the watchful eye of a $200-an-hour passing guru.

This was not going to happen to Sam.

“My parents,” the quarterback says, “wouldn’t have allowed it.”

On paper, this might come as a surprise. One would be hard-pressed to find a more sports-centric family than the Darnolds. Mike (Sam’s dad) was an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands, Chris (Sam’s mom) a volleyball player at Long Beach City College. Sam’s older sister Franki starred in volleyball at the University of Rhode Island and three of his cousins—Allie, Michele and A.J.—also participated in collegiate volleyball. Sam’s late grandfather, Dick Hammer, played basketball at USC and was on the 1954 team that went to the Final Four. He was also a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team.

Put simply, organized athletics are a big deal in the Darnold world and have been for decades.

“But,” says Chris, “they’re not everything. We’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. Yes, our children have always loved playing sports. But around here, in this part of California, it too often becomes live and die. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. It has to be fun.”

“One day you open your eyes and it’s, ‘Holy cow, your son is in this position,’” Mike says. “I mean, it’s crazy, right? Crazy, crazy, crazy—one in a million.”

He pauses. Though Chris is acknowledged by family members as the emotional one, the father has been showing his soft side of late. He insists he never cared whether his children played sports or an instrument or worked a job—as long as they were involved and happy and tried different things. But to have a son as USC’s starting quarterback; to have a son who is a Heisman Trophy front-runner; to have a son who is humble and decent and respectful?

“Say what you want,” Mike says. “Sam’s not flashy, he’s not a yeller, he’s not a trophy collector, a bragger. But I feel like we worked hard to raise our kids the right way. And it’s paid off.”

I believe the Darnolds have lessons for many sports parents, myself included. Of course, they had an exceptionally athletic son who could have been recruited in basketball, baseball or football. But more than that, they raised a humble, balanced kid. They are proud of him as a person, not just as a star athlete. Their attitude and parenting style helped develop Sam into the man he is and will become.

I hope you take the time to read the entire Bleacher Report article about Sam Darnold and his parents. There’s also another great article in the Los Angles Times called “As expectations swell, USC’s Sam Darnold finds comfort at home near the beach” by Zach Helfand.

I’m excited to watch him play football this year. Here’s a YouTube of his 2016 highlights.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Sam Darnold by CBS’s Allie LaForce.

What do you think about kids specializing in one sport at an early age?

 

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photo of Sam Darnold from the Bleacher Report

 

Is it time to take a break from youth sports?

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My daughter racing a few years ago.

If you have an athletic, active kid, chances are your lives revolve around youth sports—whether it’s tennis, gymnastics, swimming, basketball, baseball, soccer or another organized sports program. There are so many amazing reasons for our kids to enjoy, learn and have fun with teammates, but out of the 45 million who play organized games, 80% will quit by age 15. Not only that, but record numbers of young girls and boys are facing injuries and surgeries.

When is it time to put on the brakes and take a break?

According to a news report from FOX Q13 Seattle, “Should your kids take a break from playing sports?”

“This summer at Q13 News in a series called ‘Safe Summer’ we tackle the question — should your kids take a break from playing sports?

“Kids are more overscheduled, they’re focusing on a sport,” said UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak.

More practices, more games and matches, and more injuries is something UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak sees it firsthand.

“If you’re a soccer player we’re concerned about ACL types of injuries. If you’re a swimmer you’re more likely to get shoulder or lower back pain. If you’re a basketball player we’re more concerned with ankle or knee injuries,” said Dr. Krabak.

And it’s those injuries he sees in more kids now than ever before. Dr. Krabak says focusing on one sport or specializing instead of kids playing different sports limits their ability to develop naturally.”

I read in a USA Today publication,“Top orthopedic surgeon urges parents not to push young athletes too hard:”

“As spring turns into summer, most kids are given a break from the daily routine of sitting in the structured setting of a school classroom. For young athletes, however, summer can simply mean two more months of intense training, scrimmages, and over-passionate parents and coaches alike.

According to top New York orthopedic surgeon Armin M. Tehrany, who has been named one of New York City’s best doctors several times by New York Magazine, kids who play youth sports today have seen their risk of injury increase dramatically. Among the most common injuries, he says, are dislocated shoulders, concussions and tears of the ACL and meniscus. Believing that coaches and parents contribute greatly to the problem by pushing kids too hard, he urges them to understand the limitations of a young athlete.

“Competitive parents can often put a lot of pressure on their children to succeed in sports,” Tehrany said. “That has led to 70 percent of children choosing not to continue sports by age 13.”

“It’s important that parents and coaches voice the importance of never ignoring an injury or any type of pain,” he said. “Playing through the pain is dangerous, and can worsen an injury and increase risk or chance for surgery.”

As parents, we need to step in if our kids are playing injured. They may want to keep competing, but we are the grown-ups here, right? We want them to be able to enjoy being active in the long-term and may have to put their sports career in perspective. Yes, they may want to be at the Junior Olympics they’ve been training for, but missing a meet at 12, 13 or 14, won’t be the end of their careers.

My own daughter took a break from competing this summer. She took two weeks away from the pool and found out there were other activities like spin class, yoga and running. She believes that her break will allow her to come back and compete refreshed and stronger.

Here’s a great video with kids talking about how they feel about their parents watching their sports. It’s a good reminder for all of us sports parents. After all, we don’t want our kids to be among the 80 percent that quit sports, correct?

Have your kids taken a break from competing in sports? If so, for how long and was it helpful?