The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports — Or Any Performance

Original photograph "The Natural" by Greg Westfall

Original photograph “The Natural” by Greg Westfall

I came across a delightful item today and have based this post on it and its theme.

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports – Or Any Performance – By Brad M. Griffin

Please take a moment to read Brad’s excellent post – and then come back here to read the rest of this post.

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As a coach, I agree wholeheartedly with Brad’s message. Athletes want their coach to inspire and teach them. Athletes want their parents to encourage and love them. Period.

I do have one very important change to the suggested things to say afterward. Instead of “I am proud of you.” I feel it is much better to say something that sounds similar on the surface but that is very different and more to the point: “You should be proud of yourself.” It is not about your approval and how you feel about yourself as a parent. It is about your support and encouragement of your child.

  • Things to say before a competition:
    • Have fun!
    • Play hard!
    • I love you!
  • Things to say after a competition:
    • Did you have fun?
    • You should be proud of yourself!
    • I love you!
  • The most important thing to say anytime:
    • I love to watch you play!

As a coach, I am very good at the first item on the lists about fun. Athletes and parents sometimes are taken aback by my emphasis on fun. But they catch on. It isn’t about frivolity.

Although I don’t say the exact words “Play hard” I do encourage the athletes to give it a great effort. I need to be sure the athlete doesn’t think I am telling them to focus on getting a high score; I want to encourage them to focus inward, give their best on what they can control, and allow the score to take care of itself. It always does. Afterward, I often tell the athletes how much they should be proud of themselves. We always find  a silver lining and a lesson learned.

As for the third item on the lists, a coach should rarely say that, and then only where there is a well established long term coach-athlete relationship and where the message cannot be misunderstood by the athlete or parent – or a bystander who overhears and thinks the worst. In my case, this third phrase is often replaced with “I believe in you!” An athlete’s face really lights up when their coach says that and means it. But say it only if you truly mean it; even 12 year old athletes have a highly refined “BS” meter.

I do sometimes say “I love to watch you shoot!” and athletes really respond to that as well. It is amazing to watch them work and I truly do love to watch them shoot, so I tell them. Not often enough, but now I will a lot more.

It means a lot to an athlete when their coach believes in them and when their coach – and especially their parent – comments on how much they love watching them play.

Some coaches and parents think there is no need to give an athlete encouragement when they are doing what is expected of them, reserving it only for special results. Our expectations, or lack thereof, in no way diminish the effort the athlete made and we need to acknowledge that hard work each time.

Here are some additional thoughts based on the original article, its comments, sport parent courses, and on personal experience. Most parents “get” these topics and a few will benefit from a review.

  • Parents (who are not coaches) should:
    • Watch and listen during training and competitions when appropriate – after all, this is your child, not the coach’s child
    • Be positive and sportsmanlike to all – including officials and volunteers – and to athletes, coaches, and parents from other teams or programs and your own
    • Remember, it is never about score or winning – let the coach handle that
    • Thank the volunteers and officials – congratulate the athletes, coaches, and parents from the other teams or programs and your own
    • When speaking to the coach in front of your child, only positive things are to be said and nothing about suggestions on improving your child athlete’s performance or technique
    • Speak with the coach privately beforehand or afterward if there are concerns or suggestions about the coaching, the team or program, and/or about your child athlete (speaking in front of your child on these topics is damaging to your child and/or to the coach and/or to other athletes, except when your child wishes to have you as part of the conversation with the coach on a topic)
    • Do not step in to “help” the coach, especially if you feel the need to correct your child’s behavior while the coach is actively working with the athlete
  • Parents who are coaches should:
    • Follow all above items
    • If multiple coaches are available, have the other coaches do the majority of the work with your child if and when possible (there are notable exceptions where the parent/coach and child/athlete have an understanding, and these relationships work quite well in some cases)
    • When coaching your child, be sure you two have frequent and very clear communication – including that when acting as coach and athlete it is a peer-to-peer partnership. (Can you handle that and walk the walk on this point? If not, you may not be ready to coach any child, especially not your own. Yes, the coach is in charge of the program, but when working with an athlete, a collaborative peer-to-peer relationship with all except true beginners is most appropriate and effective.)
    • Remember that the coach hat goes on and off as you enter and leave the training ground and the field of play – yet the parent hat is permanently attached even when the coach hat is on, so tread lightly
    • Parent/coaches who can do these things are very special – you and your child are very lucky!

You may be shocked to learn how many happy kids, after a loss, are crushed by a well meaning parent saying how it is too bad they lost, how low their score was, or how they messed up that one thing — when the child wants to happily talk with you about how much fun they had, how much they learned (sometimes even related to that “messed up” item and now they now know what to do about it!) and how they are glad you were there to watch. Instead, they clam up. It is all very subtle.

Tell your child – and mean it – that you are happy for them and love them and that you love to watch them play – regardless of the outcome. You might get invited to watch more often. Careful though, they might not stop talking to you on the ride home!

Coaches: We especially need to remember and practice these concepts as well.

Feel Center!

[Revised Wed 15 Oct 2014]

The original photograph, un-cropped and without the article title, is here.

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Get Back Up

Try Again Sweetie

We fail and fall often as we learn our sport and push ourselves to ever higher levels of performance.

Champions fail and fall a lot. They always, always get back up. Always.

Video: Mom Teaches Us To Always Get Back Up

Music on the video is: Primavera, by Ludovico Einaudi

Thank you, Maggie, for the reference!