Sports Parent

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It’s quite a familiar scene for me. And it breaks my heart every time.

Young, talented golfer practicing. Parent standing nearby… usually with arms folded across the chest. Parent gives instructions. Child tries. Child fails. Or so the parent thinks. Parent gets upset. Instructions quickly turn into hurtful remarks about child’s character. “Tigas ng ulo mo.” Child objects… admits he doesn’t quite understand what he needs to do. Parent tries to demonstrate. Parent fails. Miserably. Child decides to keep his mouth shut. Mostly out of respect. Sometimes because he’s just too tired of arguing. He’ll never win anyway. Even if the parent is wrong.

Truth is… nobody wins.

Torn between the desire to play well and the need to please his parent, a child is forced to make an impossible decision. Should he ignore the parent’s advice and  deal with the disapproval later? Or heed the advice and despise the parent later for ruining his game – or worse, your future? Either way, the relationship is strained.

So much for “bonding time”.

Sometimes, a child will avoid the decision altogether… by quitting.

If you’re a parent, here are some practical reminders to prevent you from pushing your child over the edge. Not a golfer? They are just as applicable to other sports.

– Be honest. Are you really in a position to coach your child? Have you ever seen yourself hit a ball on video? If you haven’t, I strongly suggest you do. Children will not believe or listen to what you’re saying if you’re not capable of doing what you’re saying. You cannot give what you don’t have. Unless you’re sure that you can do it better than him, don’t even demostrate. Give technical advice only when your child asks for it.

– Have you experienced the same kind of pressure during competition that your child is currently exposed to. If not, you’re probably more nervous than him. But as a grownup, you subconsciously mask that and instinctively give too many unnecessary reminders. Yes, nagging is normal. No, it doesn’t work.

– If you are better than him or if you have prior experience in competitive sports, teach them about the other stuff. Courage. Faith. Teamwork. Respect. Sportsmanship. Dedication. Discipline. Determination. Poise. Better yet, model it. 

– Don’t fold your arms across your chest when watching. That kind of body language conveys doubt. When your child sees this, he subconsciously wants to prove something to you and tries too hard.

– It’s hard enough to deal with what other people might think of their performance. What your child needs to know is that whatever the outcome, your love will never change. Be quick to comfort them after a bad game. Criticism can come later. You want to be the first person, not the last person they run to when things aren’t going their way.

– I know this will sound self-serving, but If you think your child has potential, hire a coach. And not just any coach. Find someone he can work with on a regular, long-term basis. He’ll respect you for it.

– If your child has a coach, please do not interfere. If you really need to contradict the coach, please don’t do it in front of your child. The last thing you want to do is introduce doubt into your child’s mind.

– A parent with a 7 year old on the course is cute. A parent following his 17 year old child’s every move is nakakata-cute. (Sorry… I just had to put it in there.)

– Understand your child’s motivation for playing golf… or any sport for that matter. It’s easy to assume that your dreams and aspirations are the same as his. Be careful not to let your own frustrations as an athlete cloud your judgement. Be realistic in terms of assessing his talent. Be ready to accept that they may not not be in this for the long haul. They deserve your support nonetheless. Because the lessons they learn in sports far outweight the victories and the trophies.

– Next time you watch your child, ask yourself: Are you there because he wants you to be a part of it? Or is it because his success somehow helps you feel more accomplished?

– Getting mad at your child for cheating or foul language is natural. Getting mad at him for losing only reinforces his suspicion that you’re embarassed about him.

– Do not confuse lack of accomplishment or skill with lack of intelligence – or worse, lack of heart. No child wants to fail intentionally.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against parents teaching their kids. But there is a time and place for it – and of course the right manner. In fact, I would often encourage parents to strive to improve their own game, so that they can be more effective when their kids ask them for advice.

The best players I know grew up with strong parents who were there to guide and support them every step of the way. The saddest players I know also had strong parents who were there every step of the way. The intentions may be similar, but obviously sincerity is not enough.

My 12-year old daughter Chelsea plays for the high school volleyball team of Internatiional Christian Academy. I can’t tell you how proud I am as a father. But I have to constantly remind myself that this is her journey, not mine. I truly hope that i don’t become the parent I described in the first part of this article. But should I fail, I trust that you’ll remind me about what i’ve written here.

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Ephesians 6:1-4 (NIV)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

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