She is very excited about playing softball and we parents immediately jump in with both feet. This will be great, right? If you are not extremely careful, you can quickly and permanently suck the fun out of it.
This article may apply to softball, but also explains ways you can stifle her growth in music, art, or other sports.
We understand that you are only trying to help. We often feel she has no experience so we need to drive, right? Not at all. True, she has never played, but you are just as inexperienced at raising this individual kid with her unique personality, talents, and abilities. Be slow, be thoughtful, and give her room, or you can ruin it for her. It is very similar to the urge we have to take over when she struggles with a puzzle, or we want to “help” with a science fair project, and soon she is sitting to the side while you build a thermo-nuclear powered something or other.
Not long ago I asked our Certified Instructors to help me compile a list of ways you can ruin it for her. The vast majority of our Instructors are former college pitchers. Who is more qualified to know where we can help and where to stay out of the way?
Ways to destroy her love of softball, followed by suggestions to bring balance to the situation:
1-Never being able to please you. She feels that she never measures up. Instead, wouldn’t she love to hear, “You bring so many good things to my life.”?
2-Talking softball all of the time. Don’t get stuck on one thing. If she is only valued for what she does, how will she see herself when she is no longer doing it? How about instilling the thought, and demonstrating that, “I love doing so many different things with you.”?
3-Never giving her time to be a kid. She may remember playing “tea parties” with you long after the games are done. Gee, life was more relaxing before softball. She needs at least one day a week completely and totally free of softball. We can give you volumes of research to support this one. Find some fun things to do away from the field.
4-“Tear down” her coaches. Everything you do and say carries a message. One day she will be in “real life” where there are no perfect bosses or co-workers. Help her learn to be challenged, to enjoy, and thrive in tough situations.
5-Always coaching her team solely so she can be the star. I always wanted my daughters to play for the smartest people we could find. That wasn’t going to be me for very long, so we moved them to teams where they could get new ideas and better inputs. They felt so much better about positions they earned on their own.
6-Negative comments about members of her team, other parents, or the organization. If you want her to love going to practices, excited about learning, and simply having fun, you have to help build positive expectations.
7-Tying her performance to other parts of life. “You played badly so I am going to pout all evening, and you cannot go to the movies after all.” I have seen parents do that. It’s crossing a line. Instead, how about focusing on her? “What are three things we learned from today’s game? Tomorrow, I promise to help you be better prepared for the next one.”?
8-Tying her performance to your own self-worth. If my daughter does not play well, it will reflect on me. Unfortunately we live in a “self centered” world. Instead, how about this approach, “I wonder how that affected her, and what I can do to help her move in positive directions?”.
9-Putting all of the focus on getting to play for a top college. I have seen dads push this goal, the kid became great, but it developed so much tension that they had absolutely no relationship after college. How about asking, “Think how far you would like to go with softball and then let me know the role you want me to play. As it changes, let me know. I will be here for you in whatever role helps you most.”?
10-Telling her to push through injuries. We could write a book on this one. Injuries can be real, can be psychological, but should never be ignored. Her body, or her mind, is trying to tell you something important. Listen!
11-Pushing her to constantly play at higher levels even if she has little in common with the kids and is not having fun. If we must put priorities in order, let’s start with keeping her safe, having fun, enjoying healthy relationships, being excited about going to the next practice, and yes, having her challenged to improve at a pace that does not take the fun out of it. People want to become great at things they love.
12-Convincing her that she is only good at one thing. You want her to be a pitcher so you degrade her skills at shortstop. Think about it. Again, people want to become great at things they love.
13-Not letting her make decisions for herself as she matures, like choosing a travel team, choosing her position, picking conditioning programs, or many of the things already mentioned. She will have a tendency to put more effort into making her own ideas work. We gain self-respect when they turn out well. If they do not work well, we learn from it and we are better equipped to make the next choice… but only when parents allow us to use it as a learning experience instead of another chance to grind us into the dirt.
14-Discouraging emotions. These are a part of her, and criticizing these can be quite harmful. She will learn to channel them in healthy ways if you give her room. If you accept these, she will learn to trust you and return to you when she needs your help most. These will often be times when you say a prayer of thanks that she asked for your advice during uncertain times.
15-Not letting her take charge at lessons; times she could learn to take responsibility and empower herself. Our very best students come with a list of priorities, exciting questions, and new observations. When the parent stands back and encourages that, we know this kid has a future, and not just in softball.
16-Not letting her speak for herself in other situations, like dealing with coaches. One of our Instructors says, “When you try something and you are wrong, you learn from that mistake and are one step closer to the truth”. She may not handle things in the way you want, but I am amazed at how many times our kids handled things in ways that made me respect them so much. No matter the outcome, that is success.
17-Having her play for a coach who puts winning above player development, and collecting hardware over building character. You want to use my daughter to build your resume’? No. My girl deserves people who will invest in her in ways that will last long after the brass has tarnished.
18-Not letting them play high school or rec ball even if it is something they really want to do because you think it is not in keeping with the course you have charted for her. Sometimes she just needs to have fun and enjoy the game without pressure, making friends along the way. Think of it this way. I had my chance at my life. Maybe I did okay, but I want more than “okay” for her, so perhaps we let her make a few choices and see if she does a little better.
19-Acting like a jerk when you are around the game to the point that it embarrasses her. If you ever look back on something you did or said with regret, imagine how she was feeling. Always try to conduct yourself in ways that she cannot wait to have you meet her friends and members of her team. Let her feel great about the legacy you are leaving her.
20-Thinking you always know what is best for them. Yes, we have to trust our instincts. However, our emotions can cloud our reasoning. You will ride a roller coaster if she chooses to pursue sports with great passion. The best thing we can do for her is to help smooth the peaks and valleys, because too much of either can be tough for a kid to process.
Our Instructors are veterans of the game. They have played or coached at every level. We work with, literally, thousands of kids, so we have seen it all. We have seen a multitude of dads who think being tough will make her tougher, so if they are not happy they throw the ball back very hard and even throw it at her feet when displeased. Each one thinks he is clever and is doing something original. It is not new, it is not productive, and it shows that you are probably quite incapable of dealing with your own frustrations.
We see the parents who act nice in front of us, but when they think our back is turned, throw up their hands in disgust because their kid didn’t measure up in some way. Some of them even have secret signals to let her know they are very upset. We see them leave the cage in perfect harmony, but sometimes watch out the window to see how they act when they get to the car. We see parents whine, yell, bribe the kid, or stomp out of the room. And, most of us have suggested that a parent let a kid quit pitching because we see an unhealthy relationship that is only getting worse.
Best of all, we see some incredible relationships. Nothing is more exciting than to see a teenage kid who is totally comfortable with dad or mom, knowing they have their backs, and who realize this is just one aspect of the kid’s life, but if it is important to her, it is important to us. One of our Instructors said she always tried to tell her kid, after every game, “I love watching you play”. Wow. That says so much. I have told this story before, but of all of the games our daughters won, the awards, the successes, one moment will always stick in my mind as the greatest ever. As our younger daughter walked off the field with me after a pitching practice, she said, “Dad, I don’t know if I really like pitching that much. But, I always like practicing because I get to be with you”.
Honestly, I love the game, but the thing I will always remember most is that it gave me a chance to simply be with them, to hear about their day, to talk about their lives, and to listen and see if there were some ways we might do a better job.