Did You Ever Strike Out?
I recognize that “Striking Out” may not have been part of your childhood athletic past, so please substitute the appropriate phrase. I am confident that if you played competitive team sports as a child, you could pull up a painful memory that you can picture in vivid detail. I don’t want you to focus on the sights, sounds, and smells you remember, but instead on that terrible sinking feeling deep in your gut when the event took place. Come to think of it; I do want you to try to remember one particular critical sound you may have heard. Do you remember any adults yelling comments from the stands? Now that you are thinking about this, can you recall if you recognized the voices? Did they belong to your parents? Your coaches? Parents of your teammates? Parents from the opposing team?
Where am I going with this? If you are reading this Blog Post, you know exactly where I am going! The next time you find yourself at a child sporting event, please take out your phone, turn to the Notes Section, and make a tally mark every single time you hear an adult call out something mean, or degrading, or horrible, or downright disgusting. If you choose, you can also mark down every “positive” comment you hear called out as well. Before we continue, I need to state for the record that I highly doubt that Parents I have had the pleasure of working with over the past 31 years would refer to me as a “Softy.” I wish I had structured a deal with Home Depot many years ago to receive a royalty for every lock I “sold” so that parents could enforce a timeout safely. (Wrapping Bungee chords around the doorknob does not work). If your child has been in my office you have learned right from the “Get-Go” that no matter why your child has presented, it is critical we attend to his or her self esteem. You cannot have too much self-esteem.
Let’s face it. Many things can occur in a child’s life that may harm a child’s self-esteem. As adults and parents, we can control some, and with others, we can only try to help our kids move forward. Indeed, one thing you can control is the words that tumble out of your mouth while watching your kids play sports. Can you imagine what your son or daughter must feel as they walk to the plate (already terrified), and they hear their mom or dad yell out, “This time stop being a chicken and swing the bat!” Now picture the same child, head down, fighting back the tears, walking slowly and painfully back to the dugout when they hear, “What’s wrong with you? I told you to swing!”
Folks, I wish I was making this up. I played a lot of sports as a kid and have many different kinds of memories. My kids grew up as accomplished athletes. I have been around games and kids for many, many years. Quiet, measured, constructive feedback and coaching and criticism is one thing. Piling on shame and humiliation is something entirely different. So try this. Next time you are watching your son or daughter playing sports, and you feel compelled to call out, stop, and think it through. Thank you.