Parenting Traps to Avoid

Every year some truly talented kids decide to give up softball. It disappoints many people around them. Unbelievably, many of these kids had college scholarships, but simply walked away from the game. Think about it.

How many people discover a passion at 10-years-old that they will continue to enjoy the rest of their lives in some way?

One study points to parents as the major reason kids quit any sport. It is just not fun anymore. Today, let’s address this topic.

None of us wants to be the reason she gives up the game. But, we should never, ever, ever, be the only reason she plays. That is unhealthy on many levels. Sports, or music, or dance…these should be her things, something she enjoys for her own reasons. Recreation should be a source of relief from the stress of everyday life, not a source of stress. Unfortunately many parents do not realize the ways that they are turning her world upside down.

Bad behaviors potentially affect relationships in ways that can never be repaired. After doing some research and talking to some of our Certified Instructors, who bring hundreds of years of combined softball experience, we put together some examples that we commonly see which take the joy out of the game for kids. We hope you find them helpful.

Let’s start with a great observation by our younger daughter, Abby, Certified Instructor in Alabama. She summarized it well, “I believe that most issues stem from one major problem. Oftentimes, parents takes their daughters’ performance on the field entirely too personally. We’ve all seen it in one form or another!”

Taking it personally should be completely “out of bounds”. One emotion you might feel is embarrassment. If you ever feel that her performance affects the way others see you, any reaction you might have will be the wrong one. Every child wants to make the parent proud. Seeing it have a dramatic, negative effect on you makes it far too serious and can crush a kid’s self-esteem.

Sadly, other parents often do things to fuel your “embarrassment reaction”. It can be subconscious. They may be jealous of your child’s playing time, wanting to feel better about their daughter’s performance, or simply trying to “jockey” for better position for their daughter on the team. There are a lot of dynamics that can feed this frenzy. If you cannot keep your emotions in check, stay away from the game.

Failure to control your emotions is a huge issue. The child goes on the field and has the worst game of her life. In this situation, she just wants her parent to help her. She should not come off the field feeling like she will get a lecture from her parent. One of our Instructors said. “I remember when I was still playing, if I had a terrible game, my dad would wait until the time was right, discuss everything we can learn from the game, what we were going to work on throughout the rest of the week to make sure it never happened again, and then we would move on and figure out where we were going for dinner. It made me feel like I always had someone on my side, and made the next win a little sweeter!”

Sometimes we simply have trouble switching gears. One of our Instructors said, “Some parents want to be too personally involved in the process. They start 10U and the parent might be a coach. Eventually, the kid may outgrow the parent’s knowledge. Many times parents cannot understand that they have to let go and let someone who is better trained step in and help the player. It is hard on the ego. It is hard not to be the hero.” Refusing to do so limits her growth substantially. Certified Instructor, Jenn Newman of Ohio, added to this conversation, “Constantly questioning the decisions of coaches or the advice of instructors can create a lot of uncertainty” and force your child to decide where her loyalty lies, with you or the coach.

Jenn says we all see a lot of anxiety at times. “Anxiety about making changes/adjustments. Anxiety about new drills. Anxiety about trusting the process. Anxiety about whether or not their kid will play/pitch. Anxious parents will produce anxious kids, and they can’t play freely.”

Along with that, some parents are afraid to let their kids fail (helicopter parents.) Parents should be there to support and hold kids when they are hurting, but cannot always prevent the hurt. If kids are protected from hurt and disappointment from a young age, when they encounter it as an adult, they may not be sure how to process it. There are times when things don’t turn out as hoped, kids need to cry, kids need to be challenged, they may need help in developing healthy attitudes, and they need to learn to take constructive criticism. Parents cannot prevent this but it’s their job to be there to help their child process and work through these times. This creates emotionally healthy adults.

Speaking of healthy adults, “Stop making excuses for them”, says Certified Instructor, Jo Keller in Texas. That can be a symptom of all of the issues we have mentioned already and probably a dozen more. If the kid has an excuse, let her verbalize it, decide if it is real, and then figure out how to overcome it next time. If you make excuses for her, you are helping her to avoid responsibility and to always blame something outside of her own control.

Julia Emery, Certified Instructor in North Carolina, says that it really upsets her when parents punish kids for poor performance. How can she love a game that has negative consequences on and off the field?

Certified Instructor in Arkansas, Whitney Foster advises not to jump at every opportunity that presents itself, whether guest playing, team jumping, or grabbing onto every special event team. She says it can “make the athlete feel isolated from each team and risks her never getting to experience one of the best parts about softball, the bond between good teammates.” Too many parents act as managers, marketing directors, and CEO’s for their kids. She begins to feel like a commodity whose only value is in that created by her CEO.

One of our Instructors said it is refreshing when a parent just comes, sits on the bucket, and listens intently. Too many come looking for a magic pill or telling us what they need before we have even assessed them fully or before they understand our development plan.

Another issue: Playing too much, practicing too much, and keeping her under constant stress to perform. When she begins to resent the things she is giving up in order to play the game, she will resent the person putting pressure on her to stay in the game.

Another Instructor said, “It drives my nerves when a parent tells me what their child needs and it is different every lesson.” We treasure your input, but if every week you have new priorities without consulting her, if you are always pulling the rug from under her, how can she develop confidence, consistency, and self-reliance?

One of our college coaches was impressed at a recruiting event. A kid wanted to talk with her. “The mom was right by her side BUT let the young player ask all the questions and absorb the info, just nodded and supported the info I gave and the questions the young lady asked.” You can be sure that any college coach wants a kid like that in the dugout, and any CEO might like to hire her.

Unfortunately, we realize that most people who need to hear these things will not read this. Also, we realize that this is just a tiny glimpse at the edges of a huge problem, but it may spark some who need it to do more research and reflect upon their relationships. With that in mind, here are more cues that you may need to think very carefully about your actions.

Scholarship talk–If she wants a scholarship, fine. But, if you ever use scholarships to coerce her, that is not good. That is too much responsibility and can put a lot of pressure on her.
Labels—Lazy, undisciplined, etc. Putting a label on her can do permanent damage.

Dirty words—We discussed these in another article. Things like, “you should”, “you just need to”, “why do you always”….these are so judgemental that they leave her no response that does not lead to direct confrontation.

Frustration—Absolutely stay quiet when frustrated. She is more frustrated. Let her work through it. Calm down. Let her approach you when ready. If you find yourself gushing like a relief valve, stop and get away. You are not the solution she needs.

Butterfly dreams—Often parents see one dramatic performance, whether in the backyard or in competition. The kid does something amazing, and everything after that is measured against that memory, a memory that is often overblown. If you ever played golf and had one great hole, would you like to constantly be judged against that one remarkable moment?

Putting words in her mouth—Resist the temptation to tell her coach, Instructor, or others things you want her to say or things you fed her. You want her to see your point of view so badly that you start believing she said it.

If you can’t focus at work because of her performance, if it interrupts your sleep, if you say “we” too much when it should be about her, if you feel like a caged animal, or if you do not have anything to talk about when you are together except softball, you might be the problem. If she never comes to you with goals that surprise you, if she never asks you to practice without prodding, if she never initiates a hug or ‘high-five” after an accomplishment, it can be an indicator.

Once our younger daughter really put it in perspective. As we drove home after a pitching practice, she said, “I really don’t like pitching that much. I just like being with you”. It dawned upon me that, with both daughters, we spent a tremendous amount of time talking about everything, but softball, during these outings. That was special.

It is okay to use sports for character development & lessons for life, but do not equate success or failure on the field with success or failure in real life. Few of the people in our history books every played a sport or took dance class.

Enjoy the time together. It will always pass too quickly. Treasure those special moments and go out of your way to create them. I was lucky enough to have a great wife who kept it real. Recently I drove by a field where we used to pitch. None of the memories were of great games or great practices. Instead it was about of the times we sat in the dugout afterward, sipping a drink, and talking of hopes and dreams. The things that seemed so important then were forgotten, and things that really were important stand out today.