In one generation we went from a majority of people complaining that their parents never went to enough of their games to a majority of kids wishing we would never come to theirs.
As kids, many of us found playing sports a great place to have fun, challenge and express ourselves, and a way to build friendships. If we were lucky we fell in love with playing, we found a place to ask for more from ourselves and we learned to invest in our teammates. I believe the long-term benefits from that learning shows up for us throughout our lives.
If you are smiling then you might agree that there are many long-term benefits that come from playing a sport. When we ask each other, what do we hope our kids take away from playing sports? We typically all agree on the answers. So why the disconnect?
Where I believe we get it wrong is when we narrow our focus on the short-term in lieu of the long-term gains. As a result, we have too often transformed the sidelines (and our car rides) from being a place to support and enjoy watching our kids play to a place of personal struggle, frustration, and judgement(to put it nicely). This is stripping the fun and benefits that were meant to be felt by our kids and they are not enjoying us hijacking their experience. Most would prefer we just stay home.
I have observed three main areas where we get it wrong and I want to outline them in hopes of helping us curb certain behaviors so we can give the game back to our kids and give ourselves a more enjoyable sideline.
1. WE HAVE UNFAIR EXPECTATIONS OF HOW OUR KIDS SHOULD PLAY.
Lately, I have been asking friends and parents what they see most when they watch their kids play and a lot of them agree that we see our kids mistakes. I have felt this at times as well and I know it is not a great way to watch a game.
It can lead to feeling let down which in turn leaves us looking for places to put the blame. Typical targets are referees, then coaches and sometimes it moves on to their teammates as we look to dump this burden of disappointment somewhere. This changes our body language, our mood and our words.
I asked several athletes about what question bothers them the most after a game and the number one answer was, How do you think you played?
It is so loaded, and there never seems to be the right answer. It also sometimes forces a conversation they are not ready for or care to have.
Just keep it positive and I bet you find they open up more when they are ready. You could try I love the way you play(ed).
2.WE ARE OVER-ATTACHED TO THEIR EXPERIENCE.
This is a universal truth and I have written on this one in the past. We all struggle here. I feel like when we go to a game we feel like we are owed something when in reality this game has nothing to do with us. We go because our kid is playing otherwise – we wouldn’t care. The emotion we allow ourselves to develop during our kids games has caused a disruption to otherwise principled behavior and sound judgement.
In some instances, we have taken it to the point where how they play is somehow an indication of our own success or stature because we get positive attention for it. We don’t deserve the attention our kids and their teammates do.
My suggestion here is to take a break. Do what our parents did and skip a few games. Show our kids that we love to support them but it isn’t the end of the world if we don’t go to a game. We have interests outside of their interests and it is important to show that. Give yourself a chance to miss watching and see if you enjoy it more when you come back. Prove you are not over-attached to their activities.
3. WE FOCUS ON THE OUTCOME.
Inky Johnson’s quote rings true, “If you can’t separate yourself from the emotions of the outcome then you can’t fully own(understand) the process that drives it.”
Every player and coach wants to win. Everything they do has that goal in mind. Nobody steps on the field determined to make a bad play, coaches run their sidelines with success in mind. They are taking care of the short-term, so we don’t have to. Great coaches teach their players to do the things that lead to winning and they help them develop the will to win, not the need to win.
As parents, it is harmful to judge a game based on its outcome. Our kids are investing in themselves and in their teammates and that is a process and it deserves our support. When we leave games totally frustrated when they lose and elated when they win we are signaling it’s the outcome that matters most and we are showing them we did not get what we wanted. If this is all we care about we could just ask the scheduler to give the team easy games so we get what we want.
Nobody cares that you have a really good 6th grade(fill in the blank) team. Nobody. Especially 3 years from now. Normalize the winning and losing and throw your energy at their determination to deliver their best day in and day out. Cheer good plays and their commitment to the team.
We want our kids to fall in love with playing not to fall in love with winning. More often than not, when they do that those outcomes start to consistently tilt their way.
If you must win, Win the long game.