Parenting The Athlete

Parenting is one of the toughest and most rewarding roles that many parents will ever experience and when you add parents of athletes you also have one of roles that most people could never understand.  But something happens to parents along their kid’s athletic road that changes them.  I have seen everything from parents trying to control and manipulate their kid’s sports situation by working the coach over to parents just flat out losing their minds.  Like the one time when a senior player on my high school team was not voted a captain by her teammates and after I announced who the captains were going to be for the year this senior player called her mom and this parent drove into the parking lot where practice was ending like a “bat out of hell” and proceeded to scream and yell at me before her car even came to a complete stop.  This moms point was that I withheld something from her daughter that was rightfully hers as if it was an entitlement that I didn’t give her.

No parent wants to harm their child, but at the same time I see parents who fail to make decisions in the best interest of their kid out of fear of hurting some coach or instructors feelings.  I remind parents that there are no do overs as their kid goes down this road of student-athlete so being selfish in terms of making decisions for their kid is a must.

Cindy Bristow  writes in her April 14, 2015 Excellence in Softball blog that Parents are helping their kids now more than ever before. And while that isn’t always bad, it can have a reverse impact on a kid’s ability to help themselves. She writes that there are 5 ways parents can help their child that will make them better in the process.  Here’s a list of her 5 ways that parents can REALLY help their kids by allowing them to learn how to do things for themselves now so that when they’re older, they’ll do these things really well:

  1. Let Them CARRY It – In golf, the golfer has a person that actually carries their heavy bag with all their clubs in it, they’re called a caddie. The golfer doesn’t carry their bag, their caddy does. I guess that’s so the golfer can concentrate on golfing and not tire out from the weight of their bag and clubs. Well, as parents you aren’t your kids caddy! Their softball bag doesn’t weight anything close to a golf bag, and even if it did, it’s their stuff for their sport and THEY should carry it! When they get to college nobody will carry their book bag around school for them, or their softball bag if they happen to play college softball. When they get a job, nobody will carry their briefcase for them. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s their stuff, for their sport, or class, or job – so THEY should carry it! Carrying their stuff makes them stronger physically and mentally. It means they’ve got to find it, remember it and then actually carry it (or roll it). It’s not that hard (after a while).
  2. Let Them TALK It – You might be a parent that likes to talk for their child – many do. And while it can make things easier in a difficult discussion, it only makes your voice stronger not theirs. Sure, you might be super proud of them and really excited to tell their coach or teacher about how well they did, or the problem that they’re having, but that doesn’t really help them. First of all, it will be your story, not theirs. You might have a slightly different view of what happened then they do so when you talk for them it means their view gets lost while yours gets heard and discussed.Also, your child doesn’t learn to trust HER voice. Talking can be scary – especially to strangers, or adults, or when we think we might be wrong. But, learning how to talk for ourselves means that we learn how to trust our own voice, and that requires that we have and trust our own thoughts, which means we basically trust ourselves. That’s pretty important in things like school and softball and life, so the next time you’re with your child and someone asks them a question, let them answer for themselves. If they look to you first, simply tell them “Cindy, she’s talking to you. You answer her” – and then let your child talk. They might stumble or pause or not know what to say. Ok, just like learning to walk, it takes times and LOTS of tries. You can’t walk for your child so do your best not to talk for them either.
  3. Let Them BREAK It – To this day I can tell you how much a window pane in the Mirada’s living room window costs – $12.47. The reason I know is because we loved playing baseball in the street (we lived on a cul-de-sac) and the Mirada’s house was in dead centerfield. Well, actually their living room window was. Mom would always tell us to be careful and not hit the Mirada’s window, but she never prevented us from playing baseball just because we might break it. Instead, she made us buy them a new window whenever we broke it. I know that $12.47 might not sound like much, but when it’s the 1970’s and it all has to come out of your meager allowance, it makes you learn some bat control. And if I haven’t convinced you yet, then consider this: falling down, failing at something and breaking things would all be considered challenges. Research shows that it’s through challenge that kids develop things like determination and perseverance. Those abilities to stick with something through the end is VITAL for success in life and your kids won’t be able to learn and practice these qualities if they’re always rescued from the challenge.Nobody wants their kids to get hurt, but falling down is a vital part of learning to walk. Failing (and sometimes breaking windows) is a vital part of learning to play softball. And preventing me from failing doesn’t make be better; it just teaches me not to try so hard so I make sure I don’t fail. Spilling things is what happens if you aren’t paying attention, so the lesson you learn is to pay attention to what you’re doing. Failing is the lesson you learn to make you adjust better next time. Breaking windows, falling down, spilling things and Failing are VITAL parts of learning how to make adjustments that will come in handy the next time you try it – whatever “it” is – and failing teaches us we CAN get back up, or glue things back together, or replace the Mirada’s window. Failing at something isn’t the end of the world; it’s just the starting point for our adjustment. That’s a very valuable lesson for softball and for life, so let your children fail, just teach them how to recover and they’ll improve that much faster.
  4. Let Them FIX It – Fixing things goes hand-in-hand with breaking them. Not letting me play baseball so I wouldn’t break the Mirada’s window wasn’t the lesson my Mom wanted to teach me. Instead, by letting me know the dangers, and letting me play anyway it helped me learn how to hit the ball into our yard (right field, next door to the Mirada’s) or the Smith’s yard (leftfield, other side of the Mirada’s) instead of into centerfield and the Mirada’s menacing living room window. It also taught me to be responsible, that if I did break their window I was going to pay the consequence by replacing it out of my own money and not my parent’s. If I didn’t have enough money to buy them a new window, then I couldn’t play baseball until I did – simple as that to my Mom. And sure, I HATED that rule as a kid, but now, I am grateful every day that she was firm enough to teach it to me. Personal responsibility matters in softball and in life! Actions have consequences. When you handle the consequences as my parent I don’t learn anything. But if your child has to deal with them instead of you – well that’s a totally different lesson. Granted, one that’s much harder for you as the parent (at first) but there’s nothing easy about being a parent (our kids make sure of that!).
  5. Let Them PRACTICE It – Softball or piano or math lessons are nice, and for tons of kids they really help, but nothing replaces your kids actually going out and practicing. I don’t mean practicing because their team has practice, or thinking that the lesson is practice. I mean going out and practicing on your own. This is a tough one because I know that many positions, like pitching, require another person to be involved in the practicing. But, help your child find ways to improve themselves on their own. Maybe they can practice in your backyard to a wall or in their room in front of a mirror, or to a friend or a parent after school. If they REALLY want to get better at something then you can’t “buy” them better – they’ve simply got to practice themselves better!