Sports Parents: Support, Don’t Criticize

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Age Group swim meet.

In a post on Popsugar called “One Sports Mom’s Reminder About the Importance of Supporting Kids Rather Than Criticizing Them Is Gold” by Murphy Maroney, she talks about a Facebook post that went viral:

 

Valli Gideons, a mom and blogger, is giving sports parents some food for thought, but hers is a reminder that we could all use. In a poignant Facebook post, Valli explains that parents should consider dialing back the need to go over every detail of a game, or worse yet, criticize their child’s performance. And as a life-long sports-obsessed tomboy and former Division I athlete, I couldn’t agree more.

“Parents. Stop the madness. The lectures. The play-by-plays. The analysis. The should’ve, could’ve,” she wrote. “Look around and you will see it on every court, field, ball park. All the talk. Think about it. As an adult, how would you feel if you came out of a huge presentation at work and had someone immediately going over every sentence? How would it feel for someone to criticize your every word or move, in your ear, going on and on?”

I used to ask about every detail with my kids on the drive home from a swim meet. My daughter said I would “hash and rehash.” And she was right. I wanted to know what was going on inside their brains when they dove off the blocks, made a slow flip turn or came from behind to touch out their competitors. No detail was too fine for me to hash and rehash and hash again some more. I drove them nuts.

I can tell you one sure-fire way to shut them up is to ask a host of questions about their swims. They’d tune me out, put on headphones or get out Gameboys and focus on Pokemon. Better yet, try criticizing their technique, their dive, their drive or any other detail of their performance.

And Valli makes an important point. When did it become OK for parents to obsess over every last detail or play of a game that’s meant to simply be fun? And at the end of the day, is it really helping? The short answer is no. Now, she’s suggesting that parents go about their post-competition conversations a little more casually.

“What would happen, instead, if after a game we gave kids room to breath[e]?” she asked. “If we let them marinate in knowing we simply enjoyed watching them play, rather than giving them a lecture? What would happen if we instead gave them permission to take it all in and have fun? What if we simply praised them for their effort? Even when they didn’t score. Even when they didn’t win. Even if they turned over the ball, flubbed up, or missed the catch. What if we just listened quietly?”

Best advice I’ve learned as a “recovering sports parent” is this: Tell your kids six little words — “I love to watch you play.” Then say nothing. It’s amazing what may happen.

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PAC-12 Championships

What advice do you have for parents on the car ride home?

 

 

A Word of Advice for Sports Parents: “Chill”

 

 

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Our gorgeous Palm Springs pool.

I volunteered a couple hours at my swim team’s big November meet. It’s been three years since I’ve had a swimmer at that meet and the distance of time allows me to look at parents and swimmers through a different lens.

Wow. Do parents ever get worked up watching their kids swim! I observed some parents running around the pool deck, yelling and visibly shaking. I was worried a few would have heart attacks. I acted exactly the same way years ago and I still get nervous and worked up. But I don’t show it as much, anymore. I believe it’s newer parents who are the most anxious because it’s all new to them and confusing. Give them a few years, and they’ll probably relax a bit.

One woman frantically came to the admin tent and said in a panicked voice—bordering on hysteria—“I can’t find my son! I don’t know where he is! Help me find my son!”

My friend, who was running things for the parent volunteers under the tent, asked in a very calm voice, “Please, tell me how old is your son?”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve,” my friend repeated. We managed to keep straight faces. If it was a child of say five or six, there might be a reason for a mom to panic. Well, not a real reason to panic, but the anxiety would be more understandable.

“Do you know where he is supposed to be?” my friend, who is also a psychologist, asked. Her calm approach led me to believe she faces many hyped-up parents in her practice. The frantic mom said he was swimming the 200 fly and she couldn’t find him with her coach or warming up. She asked us to have him paged to report to the admin tent.

“Do you want to give him a little time? If we announce for him to come to the admin tent to meet his mother, he’s going to be embarrassed,” she told her.

“Really? Why would he be embarrassed?” the mom asked.

We didn’t have an answer to that. We had a deck marshal assist the mom walking around the pool deck and into the men’s bathroom to help find her son. I never heard a word after that, so I’m assuming her son made it to his event and back to her side.

Another thing I noticed this past weekend was that the space behind the blocks can get really hectic. That sign that says “Swimmers Only” means just that. It doesn’t mean “Swimmers Only and Me the Swimmer’s Parent Because I’m an Exception to the Rule.” It’s amazing how many parents ignore the sign, have to be told to leave the “Swimmers Only” area and a few want to argue about it. Once again, it’s interesting to look at this from a distance, when a few years ago, I was the one trying to stand behind the blocks with a water bottle and towel for my kids.

I’m reminded of advice I received from Ref Paul on more than one occasion, “Relax, have fun. It’s just a swim meet.”

 

 

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The pool deck during a meet with the “Swimmers Only” area behind the blocks.

 

Why do you think we get so worked up over our children’s athletic performances?