Posts Tagged ‘sports parents’

No, seriously, check your feelings before you walk out the door. Decide which emotions are useful, to you and to your sporting child, and leave the rest at home. Intentional presence will positively enhance every part of your day, and has potential to be a game changer for you as a sports parent.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but first I want to tell you about a celebration we had in our house last week.

Middle Sprout had a horrible hockey game. I’m not kidding, it was like the worst game she has maybe ever played. On the heels of a really emotional week for her team, after two days of finals (including her hardest test the day of the game), she struggled to focus like she usually can in net.

As a goalie, she is vulnerable to the extremes of emotion. When she plays out of her mind, stopping every shot she sees, she is on cloud nine. The days she is mucked up with distraction, or over-exhaustion, she usually doesn’t perform well and it feels pretty horrible.

The unwritten rule of being a goalie’s mom is that I am supposed to feel how she feels.

This is a flawed rule, and I have worked hard to break it as often as I can. It is not easy, but it is so worth it.

There are a lot of goalie moms (and dads) who feel what their kids do. It’s my suspicion many parents discourage their kids from playing goalie because they do not want to have to navigate the emotional minefield (oh yeah, and pay for all that gear). Goalie parents don’t hold the corner on emotional attachment to athletes, however.

My disclaimer is that I am not the typical sports parent.

I work hard to be in my own emotional space when it comes to our kids’ sports experiences, and I choose for that space to be a positive one. It helps me to be a better mom for them. I contend that the entire youth sports environment would be vastly improved if people were willing to engage in personal emotional work.

It Matters that Parents Rise Above Emotion, Not Become It

When our goalie daughter has a rough day, if I am in the muck with her, how do I support her? If, at the end of a tough day, I need a hug more than she does, how does that help her?

The same applies when I coach. I work on maintaining control of my emotions. If I am overwhelmed by emotion I cannot make the best tactical or instructional decisions. Objectivity is the regular victim of undisciplined emotion.

I have practiced understanding and controlling my emotions for a really long time: as an athlete, as a coach, as the spouse of a coach (yes, even as a spouse: it’s tough to hear unfair things said about a person you love) and as a parent of athletes. All sports endeavors are filled with emotion, so I have had LOTS of practice. (forty-something years worth)

I have also been intentional about my study of emotions and how to navigate them. While researching for the book I am writing Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, Feeling My Way, I have uncovered nugget after nugget about the power of emotional health, and it has changed my relationship with sport, enhanced my relationships in my family, and it has improved my ability to coach.

I was happy after last week’s awful game. Not because our daughter struggled. Not because the team lost 10-1. Not because there was plenty of hurt and upset for the girls and their parents. I was really happy because I have actually found a way to separate myself from the emotions that used to govern me. My strategy last week included concentrating on the parts of my presence at that game that brought me happiness:

  • Our entire family was together in the same room.
  • Teachers from the high school were there supporting the team.
  • I felt good about organizing the celebration for the seniors and their parents.
  • I had my camera in tow and I love taking pictures.
  • And, we had a short trip home that night.

The things that made me happy were not huge things, but concentrating my thoughts on those positive aspects of the evening, influenced my mood significantly.

After the game, as I prepared for the hug I knew I would need to deliver to a sad and disappointed daughter, I smiled and laughed at a funny story. I was still smiling when another hockey parent stopped me. He asked me how I could be so happy all the time. (I know he was referencing the hockey mom rule I like to break) I take his comment as probably one of the most extreme compliments I have ever been paid. I am increasingly happy because I have put a lot of energy into self-reflection and legitimate work into understanding and processing MY emotions around our kids’ sports.

It’s true. I have been working through and writing about emotion since I started my first Choosing to Grow project. A few highlights of the ways I have written about and exposed my wounds as they pertain to emotion in sport are:

I would say that the majority of people would rather avoid the “feelings” talk, and especially in sporting arenas. It is deeper and more painful than most people want to engage. My hope is to move the needle past that status quo. People will benefit from introspection, relationships with the children in our lives will improve, and if we are going to have any chance at positively impacting the youth sports landscape, we have to start paying serious attention to the emotions we carry.

Answer these questions honestly: How emotionally tied are you to the outcome of a game or to the performance of your child? When your kid makes a glaring mistake, how do you feel? Really think about it…which emotion do you feel most? Anger? Sadness? Frustration? Shame? What about when your child succeeds? Joy? Excitement? Happiness? Pride? How would you describe your level of emotion when you watch your children compete?

STEP ONE: Acknowledge the feelings you feel.  Feelings are never wrong and they are always trying to tell us something

STEP TWO: Identify the trigger for your emotions.

The second step is figuring out why you might be feeling the way you do. What is triggering your emotion? And don’t take the easy way out and say, “Well, obviously I’m pissed because my kid sucks.” I contend there is more to it than that. Why do you care so much if your kid makes a mistake? You’re not the one who failed. What else might be making you angry?

One of the women I interviewed for my book told me that watching her kid play is like watching her heart out there running around. Well, that sounds pretty vulnerable. Could being angry be a defense mechanism? Could something else in your life be an underlying reason for anger?

I will warn you, introspection will change the way you watch games. It is admittedly a bit of a buzz kill for those parent-fans who enjoy the emotional roller coaster. I chose to work through these things because I wanted to improve my relationships with our kids and I wanted to learn how to best parent them through youth sports. That may not be a priority of yours, but know that choosing the fan experience over the parenting one could make the navigation through youth sports more negative and difficult. Plus, it really doesn’t help your kid in the long run.

If you are able to identify the trigger for your emotions, STEP THREE: is to Do Something Positive.

Okay, so let’s say your kid swings and misses, spins and falls. You get pissed and are able to admit to yourself that you feel embarrassed. Maybe you figure it has to do with a similar experience you remember as a kid and you were made fun of. Whatever the case, knowing the emotion and the why doesn’t exactly make the feeling disappear. So, what then?

Now comes the harder work. Find something positive to do. Decide to set the feeling aside, on purpose, and do something positive. Seek out ways to help someone else. Go for a walk. Knit a scarf. Pick up your phone and try to take a picture that you know you’ll want to use for your kid’s graduation table. Or better yet, start lugging around a camera and literally change your focus at the games.

If your emotional experience at your kid’s games is impeding the experience for your kid, check your feelings and put in the good work to be intentionally and positively present. Please and thank you. (from a fellow sports parent and coach who happens to be…choosing to grow)

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Fight? Flight? Neither. There is a better way.

I’ll get to the strategies for disarming disgruntled parents in a minute, but I want to first lay a backdrop for where pitchfork parents are born.

Do you know what age groups seem to have the craziest sports parents? Well, in my findings, there are two hot spots for emotional craze: when kids are about ten or eleven and then again when they are in high school. There are certainly other times in a child’s athletic journey that can be difficult, (8th grade for instance…probably because it is a transition year) but by and large, those two age groups seem to be the most emotional times for parents.

Why is that? I think it is because there are windows of development, advancement, and opportunity that are opening and closing, and parents know it. Whether they acknowledge it out loud or not, they know that those two chapters in an athlete’s story are pretty important. One is the first chapter and the other is usually the last.

When kids are about ten, they are at the age where they can actually start to look like competent athletes. They are generally really excited and passionate about what they are learning to do and the growth on the learning curve is significant. Parents start to see potential. Many parents do not have a good grasp on the big picture, or patience for the entire story to play out, but they do become involved heavily at these ages. Parents are generally as passionate and excited as their kids when they reach about fifth and sixth grade. Anything that seems as though it might be an obstacle to the trajectory of where kids are headed at that point, can rile up parents incredibly fast.

The high school sports parent craze is multi-faceted. The development of a kid between freshman and senior year is incredible. If you have ever taught or coached in a high school, or raised teenagers, you know the maturity, the confidence, and the growth of independence happens with leaps and bounds throughout the high school years. This can be incredibly emotional and difficult for parents.

If families struggle to have solid communication, if they are challenged to respect a child’s autonomy, or if they are unable to healthfully encourage the independence kids are pursuing, dysfunctional emotion can spill over in buckets around sporting endeavors. That and high school sports are riddled with drama, injury, higher level of competition and rows and rows of parents who are still as passionate and excited for their kids’ athletic pursuits as they were when the kids were little. Maybe more than anything, everyone loves a happy ending and not all sports stories end well.

It matters that coaches pay attention to the emotional phases of the athletes and families they coach. When faced with emotional conversations, it is best if coaches communicate well, because the fight and flight responses are ineffective.

The Fight Technique of Coaches

I, with a few other concerned moms, requested a parent-coach meeting when our oldest son was ten. He was on a Squirt A team for hockey in Minnesota and I had observed some rather disturbing coaching decisions. One incident included an assistant coach being ejected from a game which then led to screaming and ranting his entire trek to the locker room as well as when he was leaving the building. The other incident involved a physical punishment for the chronic tardiness of a player. As each player (who was on time to practice) took to the ice, the assistant coach instructed them to skate sprints until every skater was out of the locker room. The punishment stopped as soon as the late offender arrived.

Now, it should be noted that I was a parent of a kid in an “emotionally-charged stage” where emotions (including my own) were running higher. The coaches we approached for a meeting were parents of kids in that same age group. I was unprepared for the high level of emotion that landed in the room.

,The coach came in with gloves raised. It was made clear very quickly that the coaches were the authority in the room and they were confident in the decisions they were making. The head coach could hardly wrap his head around being accosted in such a way, disregarding most of what I, or anyone else had to say.

I do remember at one point there was an exchange that went something like this: Coach: “What makes you think you can effect any change with a meeting like this?” Me: “Because the boys are still little enough that the coordination of adults can have an effect.” I believed we could have had a group approach that would have been positive for those boys, but the coach fought parental involvement to the bitter end. He lost the respect of many parents that night.

The fight technique continued through the season, including monologue emails, contentious one-on-one conversations and eventually the coach’s was the only voice being heard by the kids. (except for the confused and frustrated conversations happening in everyone’s homes) It was a growing experience in our house, but it truly did not have to be as negative as it was.

Coaches who intimidate or run roughshod over parents can sometimes maintain that posture, but eventually it denigrates the culture of the team or program and causes more harm to kids than good.

The Flight Technique of Coaches

I attended another hockey-parent-called meeting last night, this time for our sixteen-year-old daughter who is a goalie on the high school team. I was more prepared for what I believed would be another emotionally-charged evening.

Initially, the meeting was announced (not by me, I might add) via email. My husband queried whether the coaches were invited. The parents said that they had tried to talk with the coach, but he did not want to talk to them and had directed them to the Athletic Director. The question was then posed about the Athletic Director’s attendance and when an open invitation was sent to the AD, he replied, cc’ing the coaches that he could not attend. Everyone was aware of the meeting.

Neither the AD nor the coaches attended. Several parents noted disappointment in that fact.

I was relieved when, right at the start, a few voices of more seasoned parents calmed the room so that emotions could be somewhat settled and reasonable discussion was possible.

One of the main complaints in the room had to do with communication from the coaches, both with the players and certainly when any of the parents approached for a conversation. I cannot say I completely blame the coach for being hesitant to engage in conversation with some of the parents because he has had heated, in-your-face screaming encounters with a couple of them. He is younger than probably everyone who gathered in the meeting and, at least from my perspective, he is not comfortable with conversations that might be emotionally charged.

However, when it comes to dealing with sports parents, the avoidance technique is as ineffective as the fighting technique. Flight may work for self-preservation, but it is a disastrous coaching technique. One of my friends put it best when she commented on a recent Instablog post: “I often think communication, or lack of…in fact, cutting the parents out of the equation exacerbates these issues.”

Positive Communication Disarms Pitchfork Parents

Ok, so here is the scoop, in brief, for how I address parent communication with my high school boys soccer team and my approach has been generally well received.

Open, honest and consistent communication is key.

  • The pre-season meeting is important. It lays out expectations and philosophy. I make sure I stay consistent with the information I present there.
  • Parents are invited to get involved with a number of in-season activities and then they are assigned tasks as requested. I thank them profusely.
  • I try to be transparent about efforts the staff and team are making throughout the season: explaining some of what we work on throughout a week, what we are facing in our opponents, and plans to address challenges.
  • Most of my communication is delivered in Sunday night emails. They take me about an hour to compose and will lay out the schedule for the week as well as any issues that might be bubbling.
  • I engage in conversation with athletes regularly. When there is a change in lineup, a plan for subbing or an expectation with opponents, I make an effort to talk one-one with the players most affected by those decisions. I explain my reasoning, field questions and seek input.
  • I actively listen to the feedback from players and especially from the captains. Where it is appropriate, I will allow the players to influence decisions that affect them as a team. (i.e. violation of team rules, etc.)
  • I have an open door policy. I do not shy away from conversations that have potential to be difficult. As long as we are not in the 24-hour window post-game, I invite parents to bring concerns to me. Except for rare circumstances, I request the presence of the player at any parent-requested meeting. Many times they want to vent frustrations and I work hard to engage well when they are emotional.

Now, even though I am trained in communication and have studied it extensively for the books I write, even my approach is not a perfect system. I am getting better with experience and practice. I don’t know whether what I do will work as well for other coaches, but what I do know, without a doubt, is disarming emotional sports parents starts with a coach’s willingness to become an effective communicator.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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My daughter and I leave tomorrow morning for a hockey trip to Duluth. The girls will be building friendships, learning about themselves as athletes and as teammates, and playing some good hockey. The parents will be partying.

I am willing to roll our kids from rink to rink, from town to town because I want them to experience the ups, the downs, the heartbreak, and the joy of competing in sports. I know it will build them.

I worry it is crushing me.

As a sports parent, I am continually tested at a greater degree than I ever was as an athlete. Every outing, every out-of-town trip, and with every athlete in our house, I feel it is my role to process and help kids process the drama that unfolds on the way to the rink, at the rink (where I am too aware of the secondary drama unfolding in the space around me in the stands), and then on the way home from the rink where I need to be a safe sounding board for our kids.
It is much more emotionally draining for me as the parent.

As an athlete, when I stepped onto a soccer field or a basketball court it was my refuge from the stifling drama of my life. Sometimes I think my mom wanted to protect us from said drama, and the safest place she could think to put us was on a team. I suppose it worked generally. It was only occasionally I noticed the frustrated body language of people on the periphery. Or sometimes, at a stoppage of play, I could hear yelling that never really seemed to concern me. That is, of course, unless the yelling was the frustrated and raging voice of my father. He was never raging at me, but that damned offsides rule in soccer, or every ridiculous foul called by a basketball ref, were enough to awake his inner demons. I heard him then.

It was always with my dad that the drama of my life collided with my sports’ world. I suppose I am more sensitive to my role as sports parent because of that. My dad and sports were an interesting combination. My dad and sports…and alcohol… were a catastrophic mix.

As a kid I needed to ignore the scary moments. I needed to pretend I didn’t see my dad’s hands shaking from withdrawal as he sketched out a basketball play for my team. I needed to brush off the way I felt when at a lunch stop on the way home from an out-of-town game he “disappeared” for twenty minutes and then when my teammates and I went to get in the car for the long trip home we found the remaining two bottles from the newly purchased six-pack. We held hands praying the entire way home. I had to continually remind myself it wasn’t my problem when my dad would be thrown out of games for yelling at refs. I had to quietly internalize the pain of his visit to my hospital bed after I was injured. That was the night I was literally pinned to the bed and forced to endure what felt like an hour of his alcohol-drenched breath.

As an adult, I want to be infinitely better than he was as an athlete-turned-sports’ parent, and I sometimes battle with all it is taking from me to do that.

I can’t enjoy the hotel drinking games. Unless I intimately know and trust the other parents with whom I travel, the entire weekend is an exercise in exhaustion. There are times I’ll drink with the team parents, but there have been other times I have holed myself up in my room, thankful I had a little one in tow for an excuse. I don’t have an excuse this weekend, and I fear I’m nearing a point where I don’t have the energy to drink socially either. Some teams are rostered with parents who have literally made drinking their new sport, and when it is a group I don’t know well, it is tiresome to find a comfortable place to hang.

Sometimes I wish there were a rule about the number of drinks a sports’ parent were allowed to consume.

In two weeks I am going on a three-day school trip with our middle daughter. At the chaperone meeting last night we were asked to sign a waiver promising we would not bring alcohol or drugs to the sleepover camp. “It is an educational trip with children present. It is, of course, our expectation there will be no alcohol consumed.”

Why are sports trips different? Are they not “educational trips with children present”?

Beer-filled coolers are as commonplace as player bags and sticks when traveling for an out-of-town trip. Drinking is as much a part of youth hockey as inconsistent reffing. I’m just not sure what all of that means for me, and what the best parenting decisions might be.

What do you think? Is it totally cool alcohol is as much a part of youth sports as it is? Should anything change about the culture of youth sports and drinking?

 

Learn more about Meagan and her current project, Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It:  Because All Kids Matter, at her website http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

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Copyright 2013           Meagan Frank                         Choosing to Grow