The year is 1996 and the scene is a t-ball game in a small town ballpark in Arkansas on a Saturday morning. The team is Mystic Juice, 4 and 5 year old girls and boys and the score is 5-6. The opposing team is leading and there are 2 outs, bases are loaded. Parents are cheering…dads are pacing at the fence.
A husky 5 year old swings hard at the tee slamming the ball into center field. All the Mystic Juice players, even the first baseman, turn and run to the outfield to retrieve the ball. Parents are screaming, “Get the ball…get the ball!” This is exactly what they were trying to do…all of them! And because there were no infielders, all three runners made it home and the game was over. Mystic Juice loses. So stressful…yet so funny, creating such a wonderful memory for all.
After the game, the kids are lined up next to the left field fence drinking their Mystic Juice and eating their Little Debbie cakes when the coach begins to give his after-the-game speech, which goes something like this…
“What on earth were you thinking out there today? It was like you have never played ball before and you couldn’t remember a thing from practice this week…I mean seriously, what on earth were you thinking about?” exclaims the coach.
The pitcher, which was really a blonde curly haired 5 year old girl, raised her sweet little hand and replied, “Mr. Bill…I was thinking about riding my new bike!”
Immediately after the speech, parent’s began to line up to visit with Coach Bill about the game and their child’s performance. At which time, he listened and responded to each and every one of their suggestions, critiques and complaints. He even had a parent give him a suggested batting line up for the next game.
Relax mom and dad…it’s t-ball, not the majors.
This is just one of many kids sports stories that I can share with you. The coach in this story is my husband, Bill, and the first baseman was our son, Jake (shown left). Mystic Juice was his first baseball team…the first of many. Bill coached both of our kids from the time they began playing pee wee sports until they both entered Junior High and graduated up to organized school sports. That’s right, for a brief time in my life, I was a coaches’ wife, and that my friends was a memorable adventure.
Memories…that’s what we are creating from the time they stand in front of their first tee, make their first goal in soccer or score their first field goal in football and basketball right up until they play their last football game their senior year of high school. And when it’s over, all you have is memories.
I have a question for you young parents of children who have just begun their “athletic journey”. How stressful is kid’s sports for you, your spouse or partner and for your kids? It’s really a simple question. There are two types of stress:
Positive Stress. This type of stress can happen when taking part in something that’s enjoyable yet challenging. Its just enough to provide energy and can pump your child up and keep them on their toes, providing a healthy spark to complete the task. Daily positive stress can teach them how to strive to achieve their goals, work hard under pressure and come out a winner even under adversity. In moderation, positive stress can create achievers.
Negative Stress. This type of stress can have negative effects. It can create an aversion for your child when they interact with other children such as competing in a sport. It creates a bad feeling within your child, a feeling of dread, nervousness, fear and can lead them to not want to participate in activities where they feel they must succeed to earn your attention and praise. This type of stress can be common in kids sports and in some cases is unknowingly fueled by parent’s own agendas, including their anticipation of the outcome of the situation, such as winning or loosing.
It’s that time of year. Parents racing home from work to pick up kids and head to the ball park where they spend the evening that usually includes a concession stand dinner. It can be fun, but sometimes it can be stressful for everyone…including your player. I remember the first thing Jake would ask us when he got into the car after the game, “Did I play good?”. He wanted our approval. It didn’t matter to him whether they won or lost. Next to the snack after the game, he wanted to know if we were proud of him…did we think he was the greatest. And honestly, I think there were times that we as parents blew our only opportunity to respond correctly.
Don’t get me wrong, we were always proud of Jake. He was very athletic from the time he could swing a bat, and for that reason, we knew he would be successful in all sports, given the opportunity. However when I look back over his athletic activities before Junior High, I see areas where we as parents could have been a little less fanatic about his success and a little more relaxed about his mere participation of learning a sport and having fun with other kids.
You see, as they get older and enter organized school sports, the pressure gets even bigger. It is about winning and being the best and that is what determines whether you play or sit the bench. It is during these years that kids decide whether they want to really play a sport or not which makes your window of joy watching your child play sports even smaller.
Before I give you some Sweet Southern Advice on this subject, I want to ask you 10 important questions:
- At the end of each sport season, are your parent memories good ones?
- If you asked your child what their favorite memories were from the season, what would they remember first…the snacks after the game, the home run they hit or the time mom argued with the coach or when dad yelled at the umpire?
- Do you and your spouse argue in the car on the way home about the outcome of the game or how either of you behaved during the game?
- Do you get knots in your stomach while sitting in the stands, because you are afraid that your child is not going to perform to perfection?
- How many times do you wish you were not sitting in the stands during a sporting event because you just can’t face the outcome?
- Have you ever been embarrassed as to what exactly came out of your mouth when the umpire said, “Strike three!”
- Have you ever found yourself saying under your breath, “I can’t believe he is getting to pitch…he’s not even any good.”
- Do you find yourself critiquing your child after the game as if you are a talent scout for the St. Louis Cardinals?
- How many times during the game do you find yourself yelling, “That was a bad call!”
- Have you ever found yourself waiting in line to give the volunteer coach a piece of your mind after the game?
Does it sound like I have been sitting at the games with you and riding in your car on the way home? Before you click delete, hear me out. I can answer “yes” to all 10 of the above questions. That’s right, I have been guilty on more than one occasion of all of these negative behaviors during my tenure as a “Baseball Mom”. I can remember during Jake’s high school years of playing ball that when the coach brought him in to close out a game as pitcher (get us out of an inning), I would go to the car…that’s right, I was so stressed out that I would remove myself from the ball park. Isn’t that ridiculous? And because I served in two roles in the early years; fanatic baseball mom and stressed out coaches’ wife…I sometimes dreaded the whole evening because I wasn’t sure who was judging Bill as a coach and what parent was going to complain after the game.
So here come’s my Sweet Southern Advice…
1. RELAX & ENJOY. Sports are a great way for your kids to have fun, stay fit, develop skills, learn teamwork, experience winning and loosing and most importantly, make friends. So RELAX. Let them experience all of these things in a healthy way while they develop.
2. CREATE HEALTHY MEMORIES. Believe it or not sports pressure can be self-inflicted by some kids. They can be really hard on themselves when things don’t go their way or they don’t perform the way they wanted during the game. They don’t need external pressure to add to their stress. In many cases, kids try to satisfy the demands of a parent, coach, or other authority figure and end up feeling like winning is the only way to gain the approval of the adults they respect. This can be a damaging character flaw as they grow up and continue to play sports and it can create damaging memories for your family.
3. TEACH NOT TAUNT. Sporting events are great teaching lessons. What we teach our children during this time either by instruction or through observation not only affects their performance and enjoyment of the sport, but can have a lasting impact on how they deal with similar challenges throughout life. Here’s an example: I heard a parent call their child a cry baby one night after the game because he said his leg was hurting when he stumbled over second base and fell while fielding a ball. Taunting your child because they show emotion after an embarrassing moment is no way to teach them how to handle the embarrassing moment. Teaching moments can come up quickly and the window of opportunity is brief…don’t blow it.
4. RECOGNIZE THEIR STRENGTHS & YOUR WEAKNESSES. Our son Jake was and still is a natural born athlete. We recognized it immediately and fueled his passion throughout the years by allowing him to pursue all forms of sports. He excelled at all of them which was one of our greatest joys and also in times became one of our biggest stresses. When you have a child who is an athletic achiever, if you are not careful something bigger than you can interfere…PRIDE. It can engulf your whole being and then your child’s success or failure becomes all about you. Be careful. It is important to recognize their strengths and empower them to succeed but also keep yourself in CHECK and make sure that your behavior doesn’t reflect your weaknesses.
5. STAY IN TOUCH WITH REALITY. Not every child is going to grow up to be the next pro baseball or football star. Only 1% actually goes on to play in the the big leagues. Don’t let your pride and dreams interfere with their year of fun memories. I do think it is important to provide them with all the tools and support they need to be the best they can be. We paid for private trainers, sports camps and the best equipment to fuel our son’s abilities. It proved successful for him and gave him the opportunities he deserved. However, athletes are just one knee injury or shoulder injury away from not ever playing the sport again. In a blink of an eye, the dream can be over. Keep yourself and your athlete grounded throughout their lives to experience the full joy of the sport and not what could have been.
And lastly, I would like to leave you with this visual image. If some random person video recorded you on their cell phone during a game, what would you see. Would you be embarrassed or would you feel comfortable with your behavior? I’m just glad this technology didn’t exist when my kids were playing kid’s sports…I am afraid that there might be a couple of occasions that I would be guilty as charged and the video viral on You Tube.
Have fun this summer and LET’S PLAY BALL!