You won’t believe these two sports parents….

171176_1867727056714_561695_o-1One 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. 10400458_1163243325061_5149557_n

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.

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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?

The New Trend: Sportsplow Parents

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Team cheer on my daughter’s college swim team.

Our kids had one swim coach who laid out the law to us (me and a fellow swim mom.) We weren’t allowed to follow our kids to the starting blocks, nor stand at the end of their warm-up lanes with water bottles and towels. We weren’t even allowed to sit on the same side of the pool with them at meets. They had their own space with their coach and no parents allowed! Can you guess how old our kids were at the time? I’m embarrassed to tell you they were in high school — and yes, I was still chasing my kids around with their towels!

It seemed really harsh and crazy to me at the time. Looking back, the coaches my daughter had during her teen years were trying to help our kids gain skills and independence they’d need in college. Yes, my daughter missed an event during this period of time. Something she’d never done before. Of course, how could she not miss an event with me standing by reminding her and her brother when to warm up, go to their lanes and get on the blocks?

When kids get involved at an elite level in sports, most likely their parents are by their sides ensuring they make it. It gets a lot crazier than my simple stories when you’re talking about the major sports and the possibility of millions of dollars. Instead of acting like a Ball, be more of a Darnold parent. I wrote about those parents here and here.

In Sports Illustrated, I read The Rise of the Snowplow Sports Parents By Kalyn Kahler. There are a lot of great examples in the story about parents overly involved in their kids’ sports careers and how many are turning their children’s athletics into full time jobs. Read the entire article here. I’ve included a few excerpts below:

In football as in other sports, they’re drawing up business plans, starting marketing agencies, turning up at practice and even monitoring phone use. But by clearing out every obstacle on their kids’ road to stardom, hyperinvolved moms and dads threaten to deprive young athletes of critical life experiences. And they’re driving coaches and agents nuts.

Arriving at his draft-night party, Dwayne Haskins Jr. steps out of a gray van with a large logo affixed to its side: a black circle with two white H’s that connect in the middle. The Ohio State quarterback makes his way past fans and media down a red carpet, printed with the same logo, and walks under a banner displaying the two H’s. The symbol is everywhere and—to the uninitiated—could be more than a bit confusing: There is, after all, only one Dwayne Haskins about to be drafted. So why two H’s?

As Haskins Jr. wades through 300 of his closest friends and paying customers inside the Bowlmor Lanes in Gaithersburg, Md.—$40 covered bowling, food and drinks—the person responsible for that second h stays attached to his hip. It is his dad.

Dwayne Haskins Sr. has meticulously planned the draft-night event not just to launch his son’s career but also to launch their new family endeavor: Haskins & Haskins Group, LLC, an entertainment, branding and event agency that he registered shortly after Junior declared for the NFL draft in January. He has the two-H logo tattooed on the inside of his wrist, as do Dwayne Jr.’s mom, Tamara, and 18-year-old sister, Tamia, an aspiring actor. (The QB plans on getting it later.) The second h technically refers to Tamia, according to Dwayne Sr., but there’s little doubt who the driving force behind the company is.

Haskins Sr., it turns out, is not unique. One NBA agent said two out of his eight clients have their own LLCs to handle marketing and branding opportunities, set up by parents soon after their college careers ended.

The article describes how parents now show up for basketball camp and stay the entire time watching in the stands. When we sent our kids to USC Swim Camp, they were gone for an entire week. We kidded them that we’d hang out and watch, but we did manage to rip ourselves from their sides and head home. They loved that week so much! I wonder why?

Here’s more from the Sports Illustrated article:

The overactive parent is as old a concept as sports itself, but coaches and agents across football, basketball, baseball and hockey say that over the last few years, parents have become more involved in their children’s athletic careers than ever before—and it is reshaping sports. After all, this is a burgeoning age of player empowerment. Salaries are higher, athletes can force trades and recruit teammates. Business opportunities are everywhere, from the phones in players’ hands to the shoes on their feet. But that also means there are more complex decisions to make. So parents are stepping in to ensure that not an ounce of potential is wasted.

The phenomenon also reflects what’s happening in the rest of society, says psychologist Madeline Levine, an expert on the topic. “It used to be helicopter parenting,” she says. “And now it is snowplow parenting, which is much more active: It means you are doing something to smooth the way for the child. It’s not just that you’re hypervigilant—it’s that you are actually getting rid of those bumps, which robs kids of the necessary experience of learning and failing.”

Not surprisingly, the trend is driving many coaches nuts. “When I think about my next coaching job, I think it should be in an orphanage,” says Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey. “I use that [line] at coaching clinics, and high school coaches give me a standing ovation.”

Call it the age of the sportsplow parent.

I’m thankful for learning how not to be a sportsplow parent. It certainly helped my daughter when she went off to college and swam. The coaches she had in high school taught us well — even if we didn’t understand it at the time. We needed to be trained to let our kids make it on their own. My mom liked to say that her job as a parent was to allow us to fly from the nest. She was right.

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My daughter’s pug Waffles on deck and ready to go.

What are your thoughts about sportsplow parents? Do you know any — or are you one yourself?

Helicopter Parents: Hover a Few Feet Higher

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My kiddos jumping in the waves in Laguna Bach, CA.

I received a question from a swim mom the other day about families that team hop. “Why do they often want to destroy the team they left behind?” she wondered. This mom said that if her own family were to make a decision about leaving, they’d do it and not look back. Their decision would be their own and they wouldn’t need to tear down the team or coach. I wrote about that question in an “Ask Swim Mom” story. You can read it here.

I received a text from a swim and dance mom friend who read the story and whose daughter went to college with mine. She said it’s easier for us to see a better way to handle things because our girls are no longer involved. “For these people it’s still very personal and real.”

That’s it. It’s all so personal when your kids are young and you’re involved. I regret many things I did–not only as a swim mom–but as a school parent, too. Every day I didn’t need to put on armor and fight each battle. Some things could have been left alone. I really felt the need to solve each issue, from a parent not fulfilling volunteer commitments on the swim team, to a teacher who wasn’t great at teaching. I wish I would have known that “this too shall pass.” I barely remember what caused me such inner turmoil in younger years with my kids.

Relax, stand back, and enjoy each memory you’re creating with your family. If we could convince newer parents to take a step back and not hover quite so closely, they might be able to enjoy parenting even more. I think it’s okay to helicopter parent, just do it from a higher altitude so you can see the big picture.

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What regrets do you have as a parent or in life? What would you do over if you had a second chance?

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.