Lessons in Being a Better Sports Parent
I will never forget my daughter’s first t-ball game. It taught me a) the importance of being a better sports parent and b) a lot of parents are not good sports parents.
I would watch her hanging out in right field, twirling in lazy circles. Every inning, she would meticulously pull up the grass. She also played rock paper scissors with her teammate while the opposing team was at bat. At one point, she wore her mitt on her head.
Oh, the lessons we can learn from youth sports.
She played her first season at age six. Even at that young age, I quickly realized the difficulty in sitting back and just let her learn at her own pace. Youth sports should be fun, right? But as former athlete, I struggled with being overbearing. I was almost “that sports parent.”
At times, I just wanted to get out there and take over. I want to tell her exactly what to do. I laughed when she picked grass, but at the same time, I struggled to keep my mouth shut when she did.
I always said that I don’t want to be one of those parents that tries to live vicariously through my child and her activities…or pushes her to do something she doesn’t love…or pushes her to be the best.
I just want her to do her best.
There is a difference, and I was reminded of that during her first and last season of t-ball.
Prior to the first game, we worked diligently on batting in the backyard, and she hit very well. So at that first game, when she got her first base hit, I was excited. I wanted her to show everyone what she could do.
Then the next batter hit the ball, and my daughter advanced to second. One more batter up; a solid hit, and my girl ran towards third base. The opposing team struggled and bobbled the ball around a bit, so the coach began to motion for her to keep going on to home.
With only four practices under her belt, she had run the bases two, maybe three times. And at age six, she didn’t get the concept just yet.
So, as she rounded third base, I noticed she began to veer to the inside of the third base line instead of straight towards home. I knew right away she was confused and that she didn’t really know where to go.
I wanted to fix it.
As soon as I realized this, I wanted to jump onto the field and show her what to do. I wanted to protect her from making a mistake. I wanted to fix it.
With several parents in the stands screaming for her to touch home plate, I saw in her slowing down; her confusion growing. The first base coach was also yelling at her, which confused her even more, so she promptly cut left between the pitcher and home and started trucking for first base.
I cringed and yelled for her to turn around, and so did everyone else. When the first base coach took several steps towards her and directed her to turn around and run back home, my daughter realized her she had messed up and turned back around to run the other way.
She made it to home plate. The two girls who had batted behind her had already crossed.
Yes, it was cute and funny. Some of us were laughing. But I knew some parents, deep down, were irritated.
It was a crappy experience.
Right after she crossed home plate, she looked up at me in the stands.
She knew right where I was sitting. Our eyes met, and in that instant, I saw fear. I also saw confusion, uncertainty, and embarrassment. Nothing about her expression said, “this is fun.”
I doubt anyone else noticed, but a mom knows these things. All the frantic shrieking and yelling she heard from the stands made it clear she had goofed. She was looking to me for reassurance and approval, and at that moment, my heart sank.
I smiled and clapped and waved to her, but inside, my heart hurt. It hurt because for a moment I had forgotten that she’s just a little girl learning how to play a new sport.
She’s going to make mistakes and as a parent, I know that, so why did I get so worked up with worry? It hurt because I realized that for a moment, I got caught up in that frenzy of bullshit that goes on in the crowds at youth sports events all over the country.
I was thinking more about the fact that she made a mistake, rather than the fact that she was simply learning a game and supposed to be having fun. I suddenly realized how quickly we start projecting onto our kids; even when we say we won’t. It’s funny how their performance suddenly becomes more about us than them if we are not careful.
Parents are more competitive than the kids.
I see how we parents can get competitive. How we can make our kids feel when things don’t go perfectly. I tell her just to do her best…that is what matters. Yet, somehow that wasn’t how I felt the moment she ran the wrong direction.
Instead, I began worrying about how the mistake would be perceived and possibly affect the score. After all, we had landed on a highly competitive team and the main objective was winning. It was suddenly very apparent to me that I had some work to do. I needed to practice what I preach.
I say I don’t want to be that parent, but if I’m not careful, I could end up being one.
The base-running debacle taught me an important lesson. We signed up to have fun and try a new sport; not to win MVP at age six. So with that in mind, we focused on fun for the rest of the season. Not mistakes. Not how many times we got thrown out. Not missing the ball in the outfield. And certainly not how much time we spent on the bench.
For years, I’ve said that youth sports teaches important life lessons. Up until now, I thought the lessons were just for the kids. Most of the time, they are. But from where I’m sitting, some parents have a lot to learn, too.