Coaching Your Kid
Although it's true I'm not yet a parent, my job has allowed me to experience hundreds of interactions between parents and their children. As a baseball coach and personal instructor, I've heard and seen many different styles and approaches used by parents attempting to get some message across to their young athlete. Some good, some bad. In this article I would like to share a few of the tips and successful strategies my experiences in coaching have shown me. Perhaps some of them can help you become a more positive influence in your young athlete's life.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. Long before I became a coach, I was a just a kid who loved playing baseball. I loved traveling with my family to different cities and ball fields for tournaments. I loved seeing how far I could hit the ball, or how fast I could throw the ball to my first baseman. I loved being out there with my teammates. I remember being in Michigan for a big travel ball tournament when I was 11. A couple games into the tournament we matched up against a team from Indiana. I remember this game very well even though it was many years ago. Unfortunately, the reason I remember it so well is due to the lack of understanding from a parent.
Sometime in the late innings of the game, I hit a ground ball to third base. As soon as I hit it I knew I would likely be thrown out at first, but I ran as hard as I could anyway. Just before I reached first base I saw the first baseman leap up in the air. He was unable to reach the high throw from the third baseman. The ball rolled quite a long way up the fence and I was able to get to third base due to the bad throw. I wish I would've stopped at second. Standing on third I could hear each and every crushing word the third baseman's father was saying to his son. "Why can't you just throw the dam* ball to the base? We practice this everyday and you still can't do it! How the he** can I teach you to throw the f*%#^%# ball to his chest? I've tried everything already!"
I turned to look at the kid who was just scolded by his father. I wish I wouldn't have done that either. He had tears running down both cheeks, and tried wiping them away as the next pitch was being thrown. Never in my life have I felt so bad for getting on base.
Sure, we've all heard stories like that and most likely have seen it play out in front of our eyes, The kid was 11 years old. He made a bad throw while playing a game he really enjoyed- at least when his father wasn't making him cry on the field. I'm not certain where that kid is now or what he's doing, but I'm sure he remembers that day and that entire tournament for all the wrong reasons.
If you're taking the time to read this, I'm guessing you are nothing like the dad mentioned above. So let's go over some tips and strategies that will help your young athlete enjoy the game he or she loves.
Tip number 1: Whether your young athlete played a good game or a bad one, always tell him/her how much you enjoy watching him/her play.
You may not realize just how much your child wants to make you proud. As a child or adult, not much compares to the feeling of knowing your parents are proud of you. On the way home from the next basketball game, tell your point guard how much you like watching her on the court. Tell her this whether she scored 15 points or 0 points. It will make her feel good and she will likely then associate basketball with making her parents proud. What a great and powerful reason to stay committed to the game!
Tip number 2: "We" in bad times, "You" in good times.
As a hitting instructor, I do this every single day. I don't have any scientific data or a research team to confirm that this helps, but it's extremely easy to do and can't possibly hurt to try. A lot of times when I throw a pitch to a young hitter and he swings and misses it's because he "pulled his head." Instead of watching the ball all the way in, he yanks his head around making it impossible to see the ball the last couple feet, resulting in a swing and a miss.
Missing the ball results in a negative feeling for the hitter. Knowing this, the next couple sentences out of my mouth usually go something like this: "Oh man we pulled our head on that swing so we couldn't watch it all the way in. Let's try to keep our head down next swing." Now I know I didn't swing and miss at the pitch but I use the pronoun "we" to create a feeling of shared blame. The young hitter will feel like he and I are in it together, and will perceive the information more positively. Try using "we" when your youngster didn't perform as well as he or she would've liked. Say things like: "I know we didn't win today, but we will get 'em next time." Or "I know we let a couple go through our legs today, but we will work on our fielding soon."
I use "you" whenever one of my young hitters does something well. For example, when one of my softball girls lines a ball up the middle, I usually say something like "Wow, you are hitting the ball great today!" Or "You are timing up the pitch very well." Because there is a positive feeling associated with hitting a good line drive, there is no need for me to take any credit. I use "you" so she can feel proud of herself and her swing. When your son scores a couple goals on the ice make sure you tell him something like "Wow! You couldn't miss out there. You did awesome!"
Tip number 3: Don't burn out your athlete.
You may have more passion for soccer than anyone else could ever dream of. That doesn't mean your kid does. I'm sure you absolutely enjoy the heck out of watching your little one kick the ball around. You may even pay instructors and conditioning coaches to help her get an advantage over other girls. While this can surely benefit her, you need to know how much is too much. If she feels over-worked and stressed about her three workouts a day, she could end up losing her passion for the game, and nobody wants that! Maybe you could sign her up for volleyball or dance lessons during part of the off season. This could give her the small break from soccer she really needs.
As a hitting instructor, my hitters and pitchers come see me either once a week or twice a month. I tell parents I recommend either of those two options because it is a good balance between staying consistent with the workouts so we can improve our skills, and not being burnt out by too much baseball.
Tip number 4: Remind your athlete he/she is playing a game.
I've seen so many athletes, young and old, get down on themselves too quickly. I was certainly guilty of this as well. It may be for different reasons, but we all want to perform well. No matter how old we are, no matter who may be watching, and no matter what sport it is we all want to do our best. When we don't we often become frustrated and upset. If you notice your kid is upset on the field or court make sure to remind him/her that it's just a game. If they are old enough to understand, maybe you could remind them of the soldiers who are away from home fighting for our freedom while we get to enjoy playing baseball or basketball games. An 0-4 game at that plate doesn't sound too bad when put in perspective.
I have also found this helps with nerves. If your athlete tends to get nervous before competitions, try your best to make sure he/she knows it's not life or death out there. Whether he throws a touchdown or fumbles the football, he still gets to come home to people who love and care for him.
I understand these tips might not include earth-shattering insight, but I do think they are easy to apply and can help more than you may think.