He poses in front of first base, guarded and alert, resembling a wrestler ready for a match instead of the pint-sized tee-baller he is. Just one sock and pant leg has managed to slouch its way down to his ankle. A baseball cap is perched low on his forehead, but it’s crooked—bending an ear ever so slightly toward the dirt. He’s like a mitt-wielding, “Little-Rascal,” and the sight of him could bring a lumberjack to happy tears.
It’s humid here in North Carolina, but none of the kids seem to mind. They scramble for grounders and sprint from base to base, indifferent to the dust plumes that rise each time a wind blast pushes over the field. They’re filthy. Determined. And like an unconscious reflex, each little boy checks the expressions on their loved ones’ faces after every single play.
"Are you proud me?" Every look bears the question.
In a parental pledge published by i9 sports league, it says this: “31% of children wished adults weren’t watching their games—because parents yell too much, are too distracting, and make players nervous and put pressure on them to play better and win.”
I'm cringing. I like to think of myself as a positive parent. Most of us do. But I remember all-too-well the times I’ve rolled my eyes at my son spinning circles on the soccer field and watching airplanes take off or land. I remember hollering at my kids from the sidelines, attempting to encourage and motivate.
What if my intent wasn’t the message received? As summer sport leagues and camps begin, here are three ways that we can better support our kids:
1. Praise the effort, not the outcome.
This one is countercultural to its core. Winners are valued and losers are expected to wallow in defeat. Realistically, there can only be one team or individual that seizes the championship trophy. Preparation and relationship-building is the ultimate reward. The art of perseverance produces pay-offs that last a lifetime.
My son's soccer team only won two games last year. When I failed at all other words of wisdom, “I love watching you play ball,” was enough for him.
2. Practice unconditional acceptance.
If you told me today that you’ve stood on a field, court, or track and performed perfectly every single minute, I’d call you a fibber. I’d be one too if I claimed that I "nailed it" every moment of my week. Kids are no different. We’re loved by our Creator when we fail and when we succeed, when we struggle and when we're honest about our ability. We're His. So too will be our sons and daughters, long after they walk off the field. Ours.
Sweet child, you’re mine today and tomorrow, when you win the day or fall flat on your face. What a gift you are...
3. Have something to say? Do it behind the scenes.
A friend of mine played softball for years. She was a pitcher. Her Dad never missed a game—hovering at the fence, just behind home plate. With each attempt, she internalized the elation or the disappointment of her performance on his face. Over and over again, she was wounded on that field. Her relationship with him suffered for years.
Our children feel the weight of every response we give them. Behavioral correction and self-reflection is necessary, but a little privacy can go a long way. Embarrassment is the antithesis of growth.
We extend dignity as we allow kids to learn life’s lessons within the confines of safe, loving relationships and quiet conversations.
Parenting isn't for the faint of heart, but without a doubt, we all love our children to the outer edges of the galaxy and back. Cheers to summertime and to all of the fun that we’ll have, raising them up together. May our love be abundant, our patience, never-ending, and our parenting, culturally groundbreaking…
With you and for you,
M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Enthusiastic wife. #Boymom. Clutches her faith, not her pearls.