“Joey having fun?” I asked his mother, Ann, as we were watching the boy bat in our team’s first travel league playoff game.
“Well, he loves playing the field, but he just hates batting. He can’t take all the pressure,” she said.
“I can see that,” I said. “I mean, you’re standing out there all alone with everyone watching. It can be tough on an 8-year old.”
“It’s more than that,” Ann said. “His Dad wants him to do well so badly that he talks about it all the time — before the game, after the game, all the time. And Joey is a pleaser, so all he wants to do is make his Dad happy. And that’s where all the pressure comes in. Joey even said he doesn’t want to play on the travel team next summer.”
Now, I know Joey’s dad, Allan. He is an assistant coach on the team and a really good guy. I also firmly believe that he loves his son deeply and is a good father. But I have heard him say before that his greatest love is baseball and, half-jokingly, that his son can do anything he wants as long as he also plays baseball. I have seen this dynamic with other fathers too — they deeply love a sport and want to enjoy it through their child. Unfortunately, those who are “all in” in such a way often unintentionally drive their kids from the very place they want them to go.
It all comes down to the fact that their overenthusiasm removes the joy from something like baseball and makes it more like a job, with all the attendant stresses and pressures. I am no parenting genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I read a lot and have the ability to recognize and adopt the occasional nugget of wisdom when it comes my way. And the relevant nugget was this: when your child is finished with whatever game they’ve been playing, resist the urge for a post-event debrief during which you break down the tape, dissect the film, or whatever other expression you prefer to signify going through the minutiae of what just happened. If it went well, give encouragement and praise, but if it did not, keep your mouth closed.
For one, your child has likely moved on to other things — such as getting home to watch the new episode of Henry Danger — and the last thing they want is to relive any unpleasantness they experienced on the field. Rather that prolonging that bad feeling, you want to dispel it as quickly as possible by changing the subject, for you want them to associate fun with the sport in question, not messing up, or the attendant tongue-lashing they may have gotten from their coaches. Remember — it’s the coach’s’ job to address any shortcomings (hopefully in a positive way) and you want them to do this so you don’t have to. You want to be mom or dad offering the safe (and judgment-free) refuge when they get off the field, not their coach-at-home who can continue the post-game analysis.
I am fairly new to being a sports parent, with my 8- and 6-year-old boys, but I have already developed at least one other rule. When one of my kids wants to throw a ball or get in some extra practice, I never say no. I want to be in the stands of the next game and know that I’ve done everything possible to help my child be successful. But do you see the difference? I do not force them to do the extra practice, I merely encourage and support it. I want their interest to be there, but I cannot create it. All I can do, unfortunately, is stifle it with any overenthusiasm.
In Joey’s case, there was likely an ember of interest in baseball, but it was snuffed out by his father’s well-meaning overzealousness. As a parent, you must recognize if your child wants to do something or if they are merely going through the motions for you.
And at work, things can be quite similar. Do you have someone on staff you’ve tapped for a future career trajectory or specific position? Are you assuming they want to go in that direction merely because it’s where you need them to go, or where you think they’ll fit the organization best? The point, of course, is that unless they want to go where you’re shepherding them, the outcome will likely be far from positive.
Because the last thing you want is someone standing on an island of responsibility they never wanted — all alone and scared to death — knowing you’re the one who forced them there.