A few days ago, I passed by a playing field and noticed little boys suited up in their football attire, getting out of cars, running onto the field meeting up with other little guys bulked up in shoulder pads and helmets – the works. They looked so miniature to me in spite of their extra layers.
I was particularly drawn to observing this sight because I had just recently spoken with a parent who was conflicted, between the admittedly self-imposed pressure she was feeling about signing her young son up for football, and her own strong conviction that children at this age should be spending their afternoons after school in unstructured, imaginative free play. But several of his friends were participating she said, and she worried that her son would be left behind. Yet, for her, there was also the dreaded impression she had of organized sports and pushy parents.
Reflecting on this, I recalled an article I had read interviewing two seasoned coaches, Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC who have become staunch advocates for the player, the adolescent, the child and are devoted to helping parents find balance in being a positive sports parent.
One point that I found significantly poignant in this article was the reported response, from hundreds of college athletes over three decades of coaching, when asked ” What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?”, the overwhelming answer from these athletes was “the ride home from games with my parents”.
The article went on to say, in the moments after a game, win or lose, kids need distance. They want to leave the game behind and return to kid status and, in turn, they want their parents to go from spectator (or even coach in some cases) to being Mom and Dad.
Apparently, going over the game, what worked, what didn’t, who should have done this or that, comments about the coach and his/her decisions, even praise or confidence boosters for next time are not helpful nor is it what the child needs or wants.
This same research says athletes, when asked what their parents did say that positively resonated with them during and after a ball game, the majority responded “I love to watch you play”. Many of these young athletes also shared that they especially enjoyed having their grandparents watch them perform. Grandparents were more content than parents to simply enjoy watching the child play and kids recognized and felt that.
So .. I believe this is really good insight for all of us as parents to apply to almost anything our children show interest in – are good at – participate in- be it sports, art, music, academics.
It is their thing – let them own it. We can appreciate their interest but not take charge of it.
Instead, we can sit back and “love to watch them play”.