Saturday, April 05, 2008


Sports Parenting

Last weekend my daughter played in one of her many basketball tournaments. I enjoy watching her play. She hustles, rebounds, blocks shots, plays excellent defense and scores a little here and there. She's good enough that her team is noticeably better with her in the game.

But this post isn't about her, at least not any more.

The girls played three games on Saturday and three games on Sunday. Watching them I had a revelation concerning one of the girls and her father's negative impact on her level of play.

This fellow is a nice guy. He strongly supports his daughter's basketball efforts. She has a very nice goal in her driveway at home. She goes to basketball camps and all that. But he undermines much of this by his actions during games.

For the first two games he wasn't present because he had to work. Watching his daughter I thought that this was the best I had ever seen her play. And I've seen her play a lot! She seemed more focused, more confident and made few errors.

Then her dad showed up. He sat on the front row and during warm-ups began a continuous stream of advice and "coaching" which consisted of almost every basketball/sports cliche I've ever heard.

"Put on your game face."

"Play like you want to win."

"Watch the ball."

"Out hustle them."

"We need a three pointer."

"Make good passes."

"Make your shots count."

"Steal the ball and score."

"Dig deep."

"Be like the little engine and think you can."

"Take it to the bucket."

"We've gotta get a stop here."

ad infinitum for the entire game.

Needless to say, his daughter's level of play plummeted. At best he was a big distraction for her interfering with her focus on the game. He also showed through his "encouragement" that he didn't have confidence in her ability to go out and play well without his constant guidance.

Confidence plays a big role in sports and other endeavors. Helping others become confident is tricky business. I try to be realistic in my encouragement of my children but communicate to them that I firmly believe they can be really good if they want. When it comes to praise, they like understated recognition and praise but they do like it.

I wish I could say something to this fellow to help him realize that one of the best things he could do to help his daughter at this point is shut-up. But I doubt he would be very receptive and the overall impact would be more problems and no benefit for his daughter. Kind of sad. All well intentioned but self-defeating.

This is interesting and timely for me, as we are just starting down the road of organized sports with our kids. Thanks.
One cannot live their failed dreams through their children. Maybe this fellow is.

Both my daughters played softball from about 8 until 12. We practiced together in the back yard a lot, and I cheered on the side lines at games, but that's all. One of my daughters played basketball in high school, and was a distances runner as well. I suck at basketball and can't make a lap around the living room.

What I have done for my kids is, and depending on the situation, stand behind them, stand beside them, and if necessary, stand in front of them. And as much as it hurt, I held the door for them with a big smile - again cheering from the side lines - when they felt it was time to go.
marbel - from your comments and blog you seem to have a level head and I'm sure your kids will do fine.

br549 - my approach is much like yours.

I encourage my kids to plays something because I think it's good for them mentally and socially as well as physically. But I always give them the option of quiting after the season is over and before the next season begins.

My daughter plays basketball because she loves it. Before she ever played, she wanted to be a cheerleader. Then one of her friends convinced her to play basketball in the school intramural league in the 3rd grade. When I picked her up after her first practice, I asked her how it went. She looked up at me and said, "Daddy, I love basketball."

I double check with her ever so often. So far she hasn't changed her mind. But, occasionally I let her know she doesn't have to play. My son is the same way with football.

A long time ago, I made the decision not to coach my kids' teams. I felt it might be too much pressure on them. I do work with them individually though.
DADvocate, while I never participated in organized sports other than softball for one season when I was 11, my brother and sister were very active in organized sports. It is so political where I come from that it really sickens me. My little brother will be a senior next year and my Mom can't wait until his sports days are over. He is a good player but is rarely played.

There is a certain family that essentially calls the shots, and it is pretty blatant favoritism. You are fortunate that your kids are having a great experience. My brother and sister didn't have great experiences when they were older. It was much better when they were younger - much less politics.

Unfortunately there is a lot of politics in sports. My son is lucky because the high school football coach avoids politics quite well. Plus, on a football team you need lots of players.

The politics on my daughter's basketball teams has amazed me at times. It's mostly parents who think their kids are better than they really are. My daughter has felt the ill effects of this at times but usually not.

In sports performance should be the primary criteria and almost the only criteria.
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