What If You DON’T (always) Love To Watch Them Play?
I’ve been there. I’m guessing most of you have too. We all love watching our kids play – most of the time. But what about those times when you don’t enjoy watching them play? When you catch yourself putting your head in your hands to keep from witnessing your 8-year-old manage to find every corner of the field or court where the action ISN’T. Or maybe your athlete is in a slump – last week they were crushing the ball and this week they can’t hit the side of a barn? Kids’ bodies, minds and interests are growing and changing at a rapid pace and this does not always lend itself to good or consistent play. Even so, let’s face it, those kids who are consistently good are a rare breed.
So, if you cringe watching your intense basketball player suddenly not hustling, or your soccer player unable to connect any passes or your formerly aggressive football player suddenly shy away from contact, know you’re not alone. It can be frustrating and it can bring out the worst in us. I once (and I’m ashamed of this one) even mumbled under my breath during a game, “I don’t like to watch you play.” Thank goodness the only parent within earshot was a dear friend who has a sense of humor. The truth is, we don’t always love watching our kids play, and in fact, sometimes it can be downright painful.
Studies have shown that winning or watching winning actually increases hormones. We are so closely tied to our children that we actually get a natural high when they win or do something well. It physically makes us feel good. Their success equals our success. The opposite is true when they lose or screw up, meaning that those times when watching our kids play isn’t so fun, it’s likely because we want to win. We want to feel accomplished. We need validation that the sacrifices we are making aren’t going to land them in therapy when they’re older and instead that it’s all worth something. That’s a lot of WEs and not a lot of thems. Too much of youth sports has become about us parents and not enough about our young athletes. Too many of our reactions and choices are based on our egos and not what’s truly best for our kids.
Ironically, when your child isn’t doing well in a game, that’s when they need you to be on their side the most. One thing is for sure, they aren’t playing badly on purpose, and they’re probably feeling more isolated, lonely and upset than almost any other time in their day or week. There is no better time to be on their side and by their side. To be a kind face on the sideline, not a scowling, disapproving face – affirming all the insecure thoughts swirling in their own minds. This is just a moment in time, a small fraction of their lives and sports career. It will pass; and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the ones that have been playing well – will start to stink it up, and the kid who’s struggling – will suddenly stop you in your tracks, doing things you never dreamed possible. And it’s the growth between these two times that will serve them the most in their sports, but even more importantly, in their lives.
So, remember when you find yourself in these moments, take a deep breath, step back and ask yourself, is my reaction about me or them? Am I helping them in any positive way right now? If you answer this from the heart, you will be able to reset and stop your negative behavior. They need you to have their back when they’re down in the dumps, way more than when they’ve just hit a home-run, scored a goal, or made the game-winning shot.