The Conversation Every Parent Must Have With Their Student Athlete
Her foot was behind the line. Her stick was ready. As a mom, I could feel her heart beating with adrenaline as she waited for the ref to blow the whistle. It was a close game, and this goal mattered.
The parents were standing at the parent line, doing their best to coach from the sidelines. I held my breath, and she took the shot. She missed. My heart dropped to my feet. A dad shouted, “Uhhhhh…she never makes that shot. Figures!”
They were seventh-grade girls playing lacrosse.
I wanted to go toe-to-toe with this man who had never played lacrosse in his life and acted like college scouts were at this rec game recruiting for the top D1 schools.
I chose grace over violence that day. It was one of the most difficult things I’d ever done, because my mama bear was raging. I also knew that my child was going to blame the entire game on herself and it would be an emotional ride home.
Coaching sports can be a humbling experience. I coached a JV (ninth and tenth-grade girls) softball team while I was doing my student teaching. It was my first year ever coaching, and I realized that practicing and playing were two different things. You want to practice like you will play but you also never know how your team will show up. Did they get their period today? Were things not good at home? Did they have a fight with a friend? Were they hungry? Were they tired?
Girls need to feel good to play well. Boys play well to feel good.
I have also learned that coaching is similar to parenting. You can practice and teach at home all you want, but the fast decisions they make on their own are their decisions to make. We can call a timeout and huddle up, but we send them back out to play the game however they will knowing and trusting that mistakes will happen.
As parents, everything our children do seems to be a reflection of our worth. We often unintentionally send the message that their performance is more important than them. When parents say “Do your best!” Kids often hear, “Be the best!” Why? Because the parent’s actions and behaviors do not align with their words.
When parents focus on performance like academics and sports skills, they miss the opportunity to focus on character-building skills like accountability, perseverance, grit, and adaptability. As a principal, I have seen parents push so hard that their child will do whatever it takes to be the best, even if it means cheating or covering up to make it to the top. Awards are fleeting, but character always remains.
It is also imperative to teach our kids how to lose well. A great life lesson is that sometimes you have to lose to win. When you lose, it is normal to feel mad or bad. There is always an opportunity to learn. Learning to lose with class and without blaming others is a skill that is not only admirable but also good for your character.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have to check myself consistently to make sure I am not being the “tiger mom” I could easily be. I am super competitive, and it can be unbecoming at times, but my competitive spirit has nothing to do with my child’s ability or performance. This leads me to the conversation and message that must be given consistently to every child.
“I love you with all of my heart, and I love to watch you play and have fun. But I need you to know that I had the opportunity to live my life, play sports, go to college and do my thing. Watching you play is fun, but it is not my life. I care about your character and growth, not a seventh-grade lacrosse game. There will be many missed goals in life. Learn and improve. The only expectation you need to live up to is your own. You will not always do that and that is okay. As a parent, I would love to see you become a young woman who is independent, resilient, has self-awareness, and acts on her own values, not mine. I will do anything I can to help you discover that for yourself”
Your actions have to support that conversation because your actions matter more than your words.
I loved watching my daughter play lacrosse through college. When she hung up her stick for the last time, it was sad because it was such a large part of her life. I can’t even remember her stats at all. A stat that could not be measured is watching her character evolve over time and the future she will create because she knows how to lose but also how to win.
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