Could Your Kid’s Problem Be You?
(A sports performance coach recently told me this story and he granted permission to share the issues at hand in hopes of helping other families.)
A friend of mine recently referred a family to me who had become frustrated by their 11-year-old son. They explained, “he recently started some disturbing behavior; he cries during or after games where he didn’t play well and/or the team lost.” They said it was getting more and more frequent as of late. This seemed to be mostly when he was playing with his town league team – which his father coaches. The child also plays for a travel team that travels out of town and “he didn’t cry during that season.” The parents were confused because the “travel team was much better basketball – a lot more competitive.”
It never ceases to amaze me when parents want someone else to “fix” something when it can be so much more helpful and effective when they are motivated to understand what is going on with their kid; how they may be a part of what is going on and can be a part of the solution. Typically, in a child that young, this sort of behavior signals a red flag that the parents are in need of more help than the child. They may need a fresh perspective, an understanding of the connection between their behavior and the result it’s bringing their child.
We went on to talk some more and they wanted to focus on fixing the crying.
I asked if they had ever asked their son what he was crying about. The father responded with a somewhat – duh – and responded again that it was when the team had lost. But I forced the issue, I asked again if they had asked the child why he was crying. They said no, they hadn’t, and hadn’t really thought to. I explained sometimes that is helpful because it encourages the child to think through and try to identify what it is that is that upsetting. The process of asking also means someone is ready to listen and hear the answer. And of course, we shouldn’t assume to know what someone else is thinking or feeling …
I also explained that crying is an easy way to let other people see that you are upset/disappointed with yourself. Sometimes older kids cry to show others that they are very disappointed in themselves – a kind of showboating but with a negative connotation. “No one is more disappointed/mad/PO’ed that I didn’t do what I should have, than I am, so you don’t have to say anything …” It is public and obvious.
I also asked the dad if, as the coach,, he did any goal setting with the team. He said he spoke to each individual player to find out what their goal for the season was. I asked if he helped the team set goals together, and he said no. (Weird since basketball is actually a team sport, but this is the norm.) I asked if when he was speaking to the kids he paid any attention to outcome vs. process goals and I went on to talk about the difference and the critical importance of learning to set goals that you are actually in control of (process) vs. those which you aren’t (outcome) and how most athletes are great at setting outcome goals and often need help with the process goals. And so do the coaches, clearly.
I spent an an hour of time and we ended up with 3 action steps.
- To not get mad and react in a punitive way when he cries.
- To sincerely ask why he is crying and be willing to talk through that and do it each time it happens.
- To help set goals that are connected to process, not outcome for him and the team (if possible with each player).
I sent them a follow up and thanked them for reaching out, then never heard back from them. When I asked my friend, she said they responded, “Oh yeah, we did talk to him. He was nice but…. basically thought we were the ones that needed help. We are going to find someone else who can help our kid”.