Several years ago, I was standing in the finish area of a race, when a young athlete came blazing down the course, looking for all the world like he’d finish with a fantastic time, only to crash spectacularly on one of the last gates. He skied off to the side of the finish area, obviously dejected and was approached by one of his parents. I could tell by the body language that the conversation was not going down the “You looked awesome…next time that’ll be a great result,” but rather the “Why can’t you stand up!!!” path. It was then that I heard the quote that summarized all sports parenting issues into one short sentence: “It’s my race!”
In spite of all of our good intentions, no parent is immune from a subliminal nag I’ll call “the voice.” Many of us will deny that it speaks to us, but like it or not, “the voice” speaks to every parent and this is what it says. “People will think less of you if your child fails to perform!” Of course it’s a liar, but that doesn’t make it shut up. It doesn’t pick or choose its topic either. “The voice” is just as likely to speak at a music recital as it is to chime in at a dinner conversation that suddenly delves into SAT scores. It is “the voice” that makes us question our child’s work ethic on the soccer field, when in reality they are running their guts out. It is the voice that makes us ask why our athlete can’t just finish a race. It is “the voice” that puts our emotional needs ahead of those of our child.
We all know about unconditional love. Parents are hardwired for this throughout much of the animal kingdom. So why do we listen to a message that’s so contrary? We don’t…actively. It speaks to an area of our subconscious, manifesting its message in our behavior. It’s like the conflicting messages we get when our brain tells us to eat the maple bar because it’s sweet, yummy and good, but not to eat the maple bar because it’s unhealthy. Here’s the bigger question. Why don’t we recognize it and just pinch it off before it has a chance to flower into an action?
This has been said many different ways by many different people, but the basic gist is this: we judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions. If we were to destroy that bud before it had a chance to bloom, we’d have to acknowledge that it was there in the first place and that it represented intention that was not good. We don’t like that, because as we all know, we want to believe that all of our intentions are pure.
What does a sports parent do? If every one of us considers the remote possibility that “the voice” is real and not just a bunch of hogwash, we will each be more mindful before we act, hopefully catching ourselves before we are tricked, yet again. It is as simple as acknowledging “the voice” and then telling it to shut-up (I know that’s a bad word, but in this case, it’s appropriate).
Believing that “the voice” is there and then choosing to ignore it will refocus our sports parenting priorities back to where they should be, on the happiness, growth and wellbeing of our athletes. The glory will be theirs. The pain will be theirs. The exhilaration will be theirs. The anxiety will be theirs. In the end, most importantly, the fun will be theirs.
Follow the 10 Commandments of Sports Parenting and remember, it’s their game, it’s their race, it’s their grade, it’s their life.
Mike Hoyt – MARA Parent Coach