I Love to Watch You Play

I never thought I would say this, but I like myself better as a dance mom than as a basketball mom.

Elle had her first ballet recital last month since we started taking her talent a little more seriously.  I was more excited for her dance than I was anxious.  Her team was all sleeping fairies and Elle was the first to wake.  As she danced, I grinned from ear to ear.  I thought she looked beautiful.  She smiled the whole time and her dancing looked pretty to me.  That’s all I can say.

I had no idea if she was good or bad, right or wrong, on beat or off beat.  I didn’t know what her hands, toes, head or butt were supposed to do.  I just enjoyed watching her dance.  When she came up to us after the show, I almost got emotional. I just hugged her and told her I thought she looked beautiful.  And then I said, “I love to watch you dance.” I didn’t offer one critique.

Compare that scenario to Crew’s basketball game the same week.  I was nervous with a pit in my stomach the whole game. He’s playing in the big leagues now with a full size court and refs that actually call traveling, fouls, and double dribble. It’s a 4th grade league, but he and most of his team are third graders.

As he played, I noticed when he wasn’t guarding his guy, or when he took an errant shot, or when he didn’t run the play.  I noticed how fast he got down the court, where his hands were on defense, and how long he was in the key.  Of course, I noticed when he scored, stole the ball and blocked shots, too.  But overall, I noticed too much.

When the game was finished I wanted to coach him:

Find your guy!

Get between your man and the basket!

Box out!

Hands up!

Be aggressive!

I even considered diagramming the play for him on paper.

My soft, proud, gentle response to Elle’s dance performance felt much better than my critical, intense, critiquing response to Crew’s basketball game.

I don’t want to be that parent that criticizes and yells at my kids through sports games.  The ones that are always riding their kids to try harder, do better, be faster. That parent that tells their kids what they did wrong or how they can improve.  The parent that says “You did great, BUT…”  You know those parents who think they are being “constructive” through criticism.

But I also don’t want to be that parent that lives in la-la land.  The one that thinks his kid is extra talented or has potential when athletics clearly isn’t the kid’s strength.  You know the parents that lie and say “good job” even when their kids sucked.  Unearned praise is just as harmful to our children.

I remember being at Disneyland once and I heard a mom tell her child on the go-cart tracks, “Look, you came in first!”  Sure his car was the closest to the starting line when the ride stopped, but she neglected to mention to her son that he had been lapped by everyone.

I am not saying the mom needed to mention that he was actually last place, but she sure as heck didn’t need to bring up that he beat other children when he didn’t. It does no good to lie to our children about their abilities or performances.

So where does that leave me?  I don’t want to be too hard, but I don’t want to be too soft.  I kind of want to be like Goldilocks… I want my feedback to be just right.

This article, “What Makes A Nightmare Sports Parent — And What Makes A Great One”, helped me make a decision on how I want to approach my sports feedback.

The article says that hundreds of college athletes were asked: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?”

Their overwhelming response: “The ride home from games with my parents.”  (Was Crew in on that survey?)

Those same college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame.

Their overwhelming response: “I love to watch you play.”

(The article says more and I really recommend you read the whole thing.)

So I think I’ll take my cue from the article and the dance mom in me that loves to watch Elle dance. I can just say to Crew: “I love to watch you play.”

Please wish this loud, coaching mom luck as I try my very hardest to keep my mouth shut.






2 thoughts on “I Love to Watch You Play”

  1. This happened with me too when Boden started playing soccer instead of football or basketball. I didn’t know one thing about the sport or how he should play it- so I enjoyed the game a lot more. It was still hard to see him be less “aggressive” or anticipatory than I thought he should be, but it was a much better way to spend my Saturday mornings than before. By the end of the season I was back to giving the constructive criticism talks. Need to work on that because it really doesn’t help me or him to feel better. Thanks for the great post.

  2. I think it can be good sometimes to just ask them what THEY thought of the game? Or how they think the game went and get their perspective. And then just listen.

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