One year in high school, I worked as a little league umpire. The kids were great; the parents, terrible. At least every other game, we had to throw a parent out of the park. Swear at me all you want, but swear at a ten year old and you’re gone.
At CFNYC, I get to see grown-up versions of those kids. Some had great experiences, come in the door as competent athletes. But many more show up convinced that they’re just not good at sports at all. Which, invariably, isn’t really the case. After a few weeks of coaching, they start to realize they’re capable of things they never imagined, begin thinking about themselves in totally different ways.
One of our coaches told me that when she went home for Christmas not long after we hired her, she spent most of her week trying to help her confused family make sense of her new job. “I don’t understand,” they’d say. “You coach at a gym? Where people work out? Doing exercise? You?” But, indeed, she does coach at a gym. Very well. And despite growing up believing she was hopeless at anything physical, she’s on her way to becoming a formidable CrossFitter and a competitive Olympic lifter.
The thing I hear most from those athletes, the ones who surprise themselves and everyone else, is that they wish they had figured it out sooner. That they missed out on all kind of experiences, tormented themselves needlessly along the way with that wrong sense of who they were and what they could do. And if you press them a bit further, you can usually trace things back to a handful of bad early experiences. A couple of missed soccer goals with embarrassed parents shaking their heads from the stands.
I thought about that, and about my high school umping experience, when I saw this great article from the Fuller Youth Institute.
As they put it:
Based on psychological research, the three healthiest statements moms and dads can make as [kids] perform are:
Before the Competition:
I love you.
After the competition:
Did you have fun?
I’m proud of you.
I love you.
Along with this gem:
researchers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great and brought them joy when they played sports. Want to know the six words they most want to hear their parents say?
“I love to watch you play.”
Great advice for parents and coaches at any age. But an especially good reminder for anyone working with kids in sports, or anyone with kids of their own. It’s all too to easy to forget that what you say and do really can have a lifetime of impact.