Phillips: Parenting Lessons Learned Through Sports
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Let’s set the scene for the life of many parents with a child playing sports.
It is a crisp evening and we are attending sporting event for someone we love, when a couple of parents who are, let’s just say, more vocal than the others, start to make their presence known.
The cheering first begins with words of encouragement and “constructive feedback” for their child but escalates into more aggressive behavior as the game goes on because they feel their child is “underperforming.” “Run faster”, “throw better”, “catch the ball”, “tackle him” are just some examples of what these parents might be saying.
This continues on throughout the entire match and you can see the embarrassment, discouragement and anger in their child’s demeanor, and you begin thinking how embarrassed these parents should be, that they probably are even worse at home, and how much pressure this poor child must feel.
We have all witnessed (and in some cases are guilty of) this behavior.
It caused me to think of a few questions that we parents must ask ourselves:
- How do I parent my child in sports?
- Am I conscious of the way I parent?
- What are my expectations of my child?
- What behaviors show up when things aren’t going as I expected them to go for my child?
- Is my behavior effective or destructive?
My Experience As A Parent
I’m no expert, and it is easy to criticize the way others parent, but I caught myself in an interesting dilemma as I watched my oldest son Maximus competing in his recreational soccer league last fall.
At 4 years old, Maximus is an animal on the ski slopes, riding his bike, and has a better golf swing than my Special Forces Gang co-host Tom Hackett.
Max was young for his team but was a head taller than most of his teammates and because of his size, I expected him to run over the opposing team’s players with ease and dominate the attacking half of the pitch. The Blue Tigers had a monster on their team in Maximus and this was going to be his breakthrough year into the sport of soccer.
To my initial disappointment, my expectations of Maximus were not even close to being met in his first game as a Blue Tiger. I watched Max following slowly behind the swarm of kids trying to kick the ball, without any intent to kick, score or run anyone over. I would shout out a few words of advice such as “Go kick it, Max!” or “Find the ball dude!” without much success.
I then thought to myself, “I’ll pull him aside during the next timeout and be sure to get his full attention.”
So when Max came over to get some water after the first quarter, I put my hands on his shoulders, dropped down to one knee and said “Buddy, you need to go and kick the ball. You’re bigger than anyone out there so you can just push everyone out of the way, get the ball and dribble it to THAT goal and score! How does that sound, big guy?”
Max replied with vigor “That sounds great, Dad!” and I was convinced that my pep talk was a success.
Moments later, Max was laying down making grass angels and then stood up to straighten out a wedgie he had acquired during the angel-making process.
I looked over to my wife Megan and said, “oh boy, this might be a long season.” Megan was quick to put me in check and we decided that success for the season would solely be based on whether or not Max was having fun and within an instant, I had adjusted my unrealistic expectations for my 4-year-old. I don’t think Max scored a single goal last fall, but I would ask him after every game “Max, did you have fun today?” and his response was usually “Yes daddy, I had so much fun playing soccer”.
Now I am aware that at 4 years old, the pressure and seriousness of sport currently has little impact on Max’s psyche, but the pressure he will put on himself should he play high school or collegiate sports will increase drastically and MY behavior as a parent will have an amplified effect on Max’s development, confidence and relationship with sport.
Bottom line, I need to become conscious of my behavior in order to provide the most effective parenting.
Will I fall short? No doubt, but I can lean on my success in competitive sports and the experience I have through being parented by my own wonderful Mom and Dad, to overcome my own many shortcomings.
My Experience As A Child
I was privileged to grow up in a household with two supportive parents who encouraged us to participate in multiple sports. My siblings and I competed in baseball, basketball, soccer, ski racing, lacrosse, racquetball among others.
To me, being involved in multiple sports enhanced my development, my athleticism, and my success, but that is a topic for another time. My mother was my soccer coach at 2 years old and has been my biggest fan. My father has been by my side at nearly every ski race and football event as my coach, mentor and best friend.
This is not to say my parents were not vocal and did not get kicked out of a few soccer games for yelling at the referee, however when it came to their kids, they held true to certain underlying values. Speaking for my siblings, this made a significant impact on our lives. Both my parents had very different styles of parenting in sports, however they each taught us the same values and principles that held true during the ups and downs.
These principles are:
- Work hard, talent can only take you so far
- Change your perspective; success or failure is not based on the end result
- Always follow through with your commitments
- Be honest and of good character
- Be humble and full of gratitude
- Have fun and enjoy the journey
Whether I was preparing to kick out of the start gate to fly down the mountain on my skis or kicking field goals in the Big House at Michigan in front of 100,000+ fans, my Dad would always sense my nervousness and the pressure that I was putting on myself to perform flawlessly. He would grab my hand as I walked into the stadium and would say “Andy, just have fun.”
The Bottom Line
The obvious statement is that in sport, every child requires a different brand of your parenting.
While this is true and parents need to adapt to the personality of the child, I have found that value-based parenting in sports will hold true during good and bad times. I do not intend to diminish the important life-changing lessons, habits and skills acquired through participating in sports, but at the end of the day, it’s only a game.
Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo gave great perspective when asked if he was disappointed in his poor Game 3 performance in the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. He responded with “What I have done in my life so far – sending money to my family, put my brothers in private schools, taking care of my family in Nigeria and Greece. Disappointed in a game? I’d be disappointed in myself if I was disappointed.”