I wrote the message below for the June 2010 issue of this newsletter. I’m re-publishing it here because of its timeless lesson…knowing that some of our readers didn’t have kids in sports nine years ago. Enjoy!
In the early years of my son's baseball career, the car ride home was always fun and cheerful -- win or lose. As I look back now it's obvious to me which one of us started taking the fun out of that car ride. MY need for constant improvement and performance excellence turned me into a play-by-play analyst rather than a supportive dad. Don't get me wrong, I thought I was being supportive -- by pointing out all the opportunities for improvement! I soon realized my son was becoming more and more defensive during this period of our relationship. At times the car ride home became a tension-filled encounter. I became eager to fix all the mistakes in the game and my son was on-guard and ready to defend every action as justifiable -- even a blown play.
Fortunately, things changed due to a retooling of my thinking and tactics. The conversations became more constructive and non-confrontational, in spite of the normal strike outs and errors that come with baseball. This drastic improvement was a result of the coaching I received from my wife. Here's a summary of what she had the wisdom to see and pass along to me in spite of my initial stubbornness!
- Emotions often dominate a young athlete more than logic after a competition -- especially in the case of a loss or sub-par performance.
- How long those emotions linger is a variable depending on the nature and maturity of the athlete.
- Logic often dominates an analytical parent more than empathy after a competition -- especially in the case of a loss or sub-par performance.
- A critical analysis by a parent, interacting with a disappointed athlete creates resentment and resistance.
- A parent who is critical while a child is emotional produces a terrible combination.
When I realized I was guilty of being insensitive to these realities the answer became so obvious --- not easy, but obvious. I needed to learn to wait until my son's emotions settled. The more patience I showed, and the less criticism I delivered, the more discussions we had. The more discussions we had, the better those conversations became.
I've described this family lesson the way it happened in our case. For you it might be Mom who reacts like I did after a game -- eager to fix things. Learn to trust the one who shows the most patience and the most empathy for a young athlete's emotions after a game – joy, or disappointment. It's still just a game to be played.
The ultimate solution was found when I started each car ride home after a game with only these words: “I love watching you play…..are you hungry?” After that I learned to just chill, and wait until the conversation came to me, which it often did, when my son was ready to talk. At that point it was on his timetable and his topic.
You’ll know that you’ve succeeded in creating a safe place in your car when you hear your child turn down a ride with someone else with these words: “I’m going to ride home with my parents cuz we wanna talk about the game.”