Do you possess sports parenting self-awareness?
Have you considered how you appear to your child if you look upset, disappointed, or angry at their games? If not, it's time you do.
Being mindful of your own behavior and moods are critically important for every Mom, Dad, grandparent, or anyone else involved in youth sports.
Most of the time, you probably do your best to be supportive, encouraging, and express unfailing support. Yet, there may be moments when you are unaware of a facial expression, the sound of your voice, or a particular stance. Unfortunately, such sights, sounds, or gestures can belie what you really wish to show, say, or do.
We're all human, and it's bound to happen, so don't be too hard on yourself. After all, we're love our kids deeply, so it's understandable to have strong feelings. What do you do if what you wish to conceal is revealed in a grimace, shout, or harshly spoken words? In that moment, your past, present, and future have converged.
To begin with, it's important to know what triggered your unexpected reaction. Perhaps you were reminded of something from your childhood, or maybe there's an unrealistic expectation that needs tempering. Perhaps it came after wanting so much to see your young athlete's wish come true; yet falter.
The real concern is to make sure your young athlete did not misperceive or misunderstand what he or she saw during your momentary outburst. You can't take back the emotion expressed, but you can clear the air and make sure you communicate that your reaction had more to do with your frustration, disappointment, or unfulfilled wish.
As a sport psychology consultant and from the stories collected in my new book, "Raising Your Game - Over 100 Accomplished Athletes Help You Guide Your Girls and Boys Through Sports," I know that you have the potential to positively or negatively influence your child's athletic performance. It starts by asking and learning about the inner world of your child, and how he or she handles various thoughts and feelings.
We all know there are numerous opportunities to learn invaluable life lessons through sports (accountability, perseverance, resilience, cooperation, teamwork, etc.), but in order to utilize these gifts, you have to teach a young athlete to appropriately express and manage all the accompanying painful, sad, and angry feelings without letting them override all the good attained through hard work, dedication and effort, plus adversity.
Of course, the foundation for what we are proposing is the relationship you had with your child before they even started playing sports. As NBA superstar Dwyane Wade says in our book, "I think you've got to know your kid, first of all. That is the most important thing, [knowing] if you have a sensitive kid or someone who can take criticism."
Three ways to model good sportsmanship
Here are three things to help you maintain your composure so you model good sportsmanship:
- Know thyself, but also know your triggers. Stay present-minded. Try not to focus on the game's outcome or be dreaming what may occur years from now. Rarely is a child's sports future determined so young. Nor is it about who won or lost. During the youth sport years, it's more about being there, remaining as evenly-keeled as possible, and knowing your place. Raising your voice, or appearing sad or distressed, is more likely to create embarrassment, resentment, and/or anger for your young athlete, which in turn will negatively interfere with their performance, and they way they view themselves.
- Make sure you find time to talk with your child. Most importantly, listen. Listen to what you hear your child telling you; perhaps not as much in ttheir words as in their non-verbal communications. Your athlete wants his or her Number #1 fan(s) to behave as a supportive spectator(s), not as a harsh critic.
- Be the role model you want your child to emulate. The only person that can create the desired change is you. This may be the most difficult part of all. It may take some time to achieve, but it starts by being compassionate with yourself. If you find this part challenging, it's probably because of situations and individuals in your past who may not have been as empathetic. Take heart, if you practice displaying appropriate sportsmanship, your actions will be imitated, because your son or daughter will have been learned from their most important teacher, who is you.
Andrea Corn, Psy. D., is a psychologist in private practice in Lighthouse Point, Florida and co-author with Ethan J. Skolnick of the new book, "Raising Your Game - Over 100 Accomplished Athletes Help You Guide Your Girls and Boys Through Sports." You can like Dr. Corn on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @DocACorn.