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Spring is here and with each longer day of – hopefully – sunny weather, it’s also time for a new season of high school sports: baseball, softball, tennis, and soccer. For many of us, this may bring memories of own experiences, positive or negative, which we may or may not be conscious of. Regardless of whether you pitched your team through the state finals, missed kicking the winning the goal, kept the bench warm for your teammates or choose to ‘watch and cheer’ here are some useful ideas to consider to support your teen when he/she tries out or plays competitive high school sports.
- Develop your own impression of your child’s coach and their staff. Take some time and interact with staff whenever possible, attending parent meetings participate in fund raising and other activities determined by the program as needing parent involvement. Naturally, attending your child’s games/sporting events. Good coaches want and need parent support in these types of areas and like to see people show up for the event; the more people to clap and cheer the team to victory, the better.
- Talk to your child about their interactions with the coach/coaches & LISTEN carefully. Form your own opinions and check out disconcerting information tactfully and directly from the head coach. When something you hear doesn’t ‘sit right’, do not jump to conclusions or assume what you hear from – yes! your own child – &/or other parents is necessarily 100% accurate. I am not asserting that your child would be lying; perception is an amazing thing and it is astounding to me, as a school psychologist, how a student can perceive a teacher’s actions in one way when in fact, the exact behavior from the teacher was intended to mean something else. Again, good coaches will appreciate you, in a direct but respectful manner, checking out possible concerns without the assumption that what you have heard or are imagining, etc. is accurate.
- Let the coaches’ coach. Sound too obvious to mention? This is a painful point for all involved. Consider a baseball team. 3 outfielders, 4 infielders, a pitcher and a catcher, and maybe a designated hitter, that equals 9 to 10 players at most. Competitive teams carry about 14 to 16 players. Do the math, and we will all have to agree that several players are not getting to play at any given time. All of us as parents, at some point, need to concede that the coaches were hired to run the team. I contend that it’s in everyone’s best interest to allow them to do their jobs. Regardless of our personal beliefs regarding our child and their abilities and perhaps peers he/she has grown up with and played with for a number of years, etc., coaches were hired to run the team. Allow them to do so. Sharing your feedback regarding opinions of player’s ability and who should be playing and when and for how long, even if somehow ‘you do know better?’ is not relevant. If you feel your child is not getting the playing time he or she deserves, a good tactic is to focus them on their own performance. What areas are they working on in order to improve (and therefore earn more playing time?) Encouraging them to continue to work diligently with the coaching staff to self-improve earns much more respect – both from coaches and other players – then a parent jumping in to try and get more playing time for their child. Have them think in terms of expanding utility to the team. Can they play other positions? Are they working to their potential (as hard as possible) during practices, etc.? Most good coaches will be working with players individually to some degree in regards to these kinds of concerns. Your child should be able to articulate something he is working on in order to both improve personally and be able to contribute more to the team.
- If your child doesn’t make the team, allow them to experience the disappointment in their own way. What do I mean by this? First, don’ rush in and attempt to “fix it”. Trying to have the decision changed or get the coach fired for example, may help you to feel better and in the moment may help your child feel better as well. I strongly caution parents from taking this approach however, primarily because of the negative message you send your child. Doing this sends the message: ‘you are not capable of managing stressful situations on your own and you continue to need me (or us, as your parents) to rush in and ‘fix’ things for you.’ Allow your child to experience his/her own disappointment (and yes, depending on the temperament of the child, pain) and the message you send is: ‘you are becoming a capable individual who is learning to manage stressful situations in their own way. You will be able to cope with this. We see you as capable to weather this awful event. We are here for you and love you and will help you get through this.’ The power in the second message gives meaning to the painful event for your child – it truly becomes an event that, thanks to you, they learn from.
Just like hitting a baseball, making a goal, serving in tennis – being able to ‘sit with’ a child who’s been cut from the team, or experiencing any painful emotion, takes time and practice, sometimes years. As parents we want to take that hurt away and we want to do it RIGHT NOW! Remembering that the best way to help our children develop the coping skills they’ll need to successfully navigate the ups and downs of the real world is to step back and allow them to have their own life experiences – the positive and the negative. We can learn to validate their feelings and try to ‘sit with’ their feelings in the moment. And that’s really being their biggest fan.
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