Now that my little ones are old enough to play organized sports, I find my role as a parent morphing into parent-coach in this context. I don’t know about you but I have had coaches in my childhood that ran the gamut from the sweet, understanding, everyone just have fun coaches, to coaches who would make you cry and run extra “suicides” just for kicks, barking out orders and never praising you because you could always "do better". The coaches that I was always most receptive to were the ones who were able to strike a balance somewhere in the middle, coaches who knew enough about their team to know when to push their players harder and when to ease up. These situations were always easy to manage however because there was never the added layer of a family tie. As a Mom however I find it difficult to sometimes figure out the best tactic to take with my own children when I am in parent-coach mode.
As parent-coach of my own kids, I don’t want to be too hard on them so as not give the impression of playing favorites or turning my kids into the stereotypical "coach’s kid,” but I also don’t want to go easy on them either because I want them to understand the importance of competition, winning, losing, sportsmanship, resilience, and team spirit. The competitive side of me wants to push my kids to their maximum potential knowing that they have the ability to do well in any sport they play, but the mother side of me cautions not to project onto them my own desires, and attempts to remember this is their journey, that ultimately they will let me know what path they wish to take and that I am just along for the ride. When just "the encouraging parent on the sidelines", I find that I am also in observation mode and I’ve noticed that other parents are struggling with walking this line too. I’ve seen a wide cast of characters from the overzealous mothers and fathers, screaming out orders from the sidelines, frothing at the mouth and chastising their kids when they return from batting saying that “a strikeout is not acceptable.” I see the parents at the opposite end of the spectrum who encourage every kid on the team just for trying, the ones who praise kids for having a good “baseball stance” or a “good swing” even though they are not making even remote contact with the ball. I watch the kids respond to this parental input in a variety of ways and it ranges from kids who get teary eyed and upset if they don’t get a hit, to kids who get mad and throw their helmet to the ground and refuse to continue playing, to kids who just shake it off, keep it moving and try again fresh in the next inning.
Of course I want my children to do their best, and want them to be the ones who can shake off frustrations or failures and live to fight another day. I want to raise kids who use failure as inspiration to do better the next time, and realize this one at bat, or that one dropped pop fly, or that missed goal isn’t the end of the world but rather an opportunity to try again and do better next time. I want to raise children who use failure as motivation to practice more, work harder, and focus on improving so they can avoid making the same mistake the next time. A child that can do those things in the face of adversity sounds like a resilient child to me and this is the type of child I want to raise. True resilience or “grit” in my view is the gift that keeps on giving and is that special intangible quality that will lift your child up throughout their life no matter what they face or what happens to them for the good or for the bad. In the sports context, you want to make sure your child comes out a “winner,” which in this case means they feel good about themselves and have a healthy attitude towards sports.
The question is how to do you get there, as in how do you “create” this kind of child? The following are six lessons I’ve learned from the many good coaches in my past (coupled with some lessons I uncovered while researching sports psychology websites, the best of which was www.competitivedge.com), that apply to parent-coaches today and that I think will assist in “building” a resilient child:
1) Encourage competition (primarily with themselves) – The primary goal of sports is to challenge oneself and to always improve.
Thankfully our little ones are only in the beginning stages of playing competitive and organized sports, so there is still more time for us to learn and find our footing as parent-coaches. I think these lessons imparted by my own coaches and their coaches to them will be a useful place to start from to support our children in their pursuit of playing sports and as people learning to ride the unpredictable waves of life. Knowing that we can instill resilience in our children from an early age and knowing that they can cope with failure and setbacks gives me peace of mind as a parent knowing that when they are faced with challenges in life, even when they fail, they will go through it and come out clean and undefeated on the other side.