The Orlando Scorpions and Next Level Baseball sponsored a two-day instructional camp over the weekend that attracted 160 players from age 14 to 18. Many of these players have dreams of playing college baseball. I was invited to speak to the parents of these dedicated hopefuls about the Growing Champions for Life philosophy and programs.
A dad approached me afterwards to ask what I could do to help his son play with more swagger; to play with a confidence level that matched his ability. He's so talented said the dad. He's got a great throwing arm, good bat speed, and tremendous work ethic. But he doesn't play like he believes in himself.
I suggested a couple of exercises that help athletes focus on their strengths and keep their eyes (and mind!) off their fears. However, something told me that there was something deeper going on here that simple sport psychology exercises could not address. I waited for it, and then it came. I know I'm part of the problem added the dad. I've been pretty hard on him, trying to make him better. There it was, the painful truth and he knew it was true. We started talking about how he relates to his son and the kind of conversations they have. He admitted all we do is fight now.
I'm a big supporter of sport psychology. Studying the concepts of mental toughness and mental discipline saved my competitive water skiing career. However, I believe that as much as 50% of the time athletes suffer from confidence issues because of stressed relationships with their parents rather than poor mental skills. Sport psychology alone will never overcome feelings of distance and resentment in a child's primary relationships at home.
Here's the inevitable question I hear from parents when they realize they've been over-bearing and critical, or that they've over-emphasized winning: Is it too late for me to do this right? The answer is No. It's never too late, but it does require some humility to make a believer out of your child.
The first step is to approach your child with a sincere apology for over-playing your role as coach and under-playing your role as a constant supporter and loyal fan. Ask for their forgiveness for being critical of their efforts. Admit that you are learning new ways to help them reach their dreams that do not include being as harsh as a Russian figure skating judge. Share your goal of becoming a listener to their trials, a resource for finding answers, and an encourager of their dreams.
Children are amazingly forgiving when confronted with a genuine apology and a heartfelt desire to improve. They know all about screwing up and what it feels like to be given another chance. They'll do the same for you. Your job is to discipline yourself so as not to fall back into your old ways, and to keep learning about how to respond during the emotional moments when sports performance seems disappointing.
As this concerned dad and I finished our conversation we agreed on an important truth. More than anything else, his son needed to know how much his dad believed in him and cared for him regardless of how he played.