Ruining Sports For Our Kids
The first time my son picked up a bat I could feel myself on the verge of becoming the type of overbearing father that can ruin youth sports for kids. I will never forget the moment nor the feelings that overcame me.
My son was somewhere between the ages of one and two. The bat was one of those big, yellow, wiffle ball bats. We had a batting tee and big wiffle ball too.
We took to the field, which was just a strip of grass, but in my mind, it felt like Citizens Bank Park, home of my beloved Phillies. This would be my son’s very first sports adventure and I was brimming with anticipation.
I set the big white ball on top of the tee. I wrapped my arms around him and we jointly held the bat together. We measured up the path of his swing and then bam, we gave it a crank. We smashed the ball solidly for my son’s very first hit.
I felt an immediate surge of emotions come over me. I was swelling with what felt like pride and excitement and began to hoot and holler. My reaction was clearly way too intense for my son and he withdrew as a result.
I tried to cajole him into practicing more swings but my energy was not befitting for the setting of a toddler activity. My intensity had ruined any chance of him having fun. It would be several months until he would try swinging the bat again.
Whatever those emotions were that I wildly displayed that day, my son had a bad reaction to them. He negatively associated my overzealousness with that bat and tee.
In the singular moment of one swing by my son, I had felt the downward emotional pull of becoming the stereotypical jerk dad that can plague youth sports.
Why Sports Can Trigger Parents
When we went back inside that day I went into heavy self-analysis mode. I knew I had felt some pretty strong rushes of emotion in reaction to my son playing a sport. I also recognized I was overrun by those emotions and I smothered my son’s interest as quickly as he picked up the bat. That day I took a vow to try and never be that guy again.
I was way too emotional and vested in a situation that just should have been lighthearted and fun. What could be the underlying issues that stirred me to such a state over something as simple as the swing of a wiffle ball bat?
I am well aware of parents wanting to relive their youth or have some missed opportunity get fulfilled through their kids. I know those are prevailing issues in parenting, but I do not see those necessarily applying to me and my son.
I played sports as a kid and was an average athlete at best, but my interest was mild. I was always wired more for music, bands, and playing my drums. Participating in sports for me was more about the camaraderie with my teammates and less about the competition.
I do not see some unfulfilled glory from my childhood in relation to sports being an overriding theme in the parenting of my young son.
One specific situation regarding sports and my own childhood that I do often reflect on now as a parent involved the very first time I signed up to play youth football. I was somewhere around 5th grade and the team was our local pee-wee team.
The first week of practice I was terrified. I was intimidated by the contact, but especially nervous about having no clue what to actually do during the practice.
I had a nervous stomach the entire time and I just wanted that feeling to go away, so I told my parents I wanted to quit. I was too young to know that having a nervous feeling can be a part of trying new experiences in life. Quitting was a regretful decision and it contributed to a harmful pattern of running from fear in my life.
That situation from my youth serves more as a cautionary tale to me about discomfort and potential growth, though, and not some missed opportunity that needs to be avenged by my son’s own participation in sports. I would later play football in junior high and high school, so participation in football did not linger as an unfulfilled desire into adulthood.
Wanting The Best For Our Kids
I think all the energy and emotion that swirls inside of me that relates to my son and sports stems from a simpler and more innocent place, and that is just wanting the best for my son. I want him to try things, have experiences, and admittedly excel in anything he does.
While wanting the best may be the root cause of my emotional pull from youth sports, perhaps identifying the source of the strong emotions is not truly what is important, but being aware and not feeding into them is.
I need to make sure I am putting proactive work into improving my ability to recognize and manage these emotions. My son deserves that from me as his father.
Therapy and meditation have been the two most impactful tools I have used to take proactive care of my emotions as a father.
Therapy For Parenting
Therapy is an empowering process. I returned back to therapy for my third stint overall right around the time my son was two years old. Talking with a therapist, as a young father, allowed for some significant deep work to take place with my parenting.
Our children can serve as constant triggers of unprocessed emotions that we have bottled up and carried around since being kids ourselves. Talking with a therapist can help connect dots to our past, identify pain points, and provide us with life skills to help us parent with more presence.
Meditation For Parenting
Meditation has had a direct and positive impact on my parenting. Meditation allows for space and stillness to arise within situations with our kids. Space and stillness that might otherwise be filled up with emotions resurfacing from prior baggage.
The benefits of my meditation practice feel cumulative to me and seem to be positively compounding over time. My brain is getting rewired to be less reactive and more measured in responses to situations. This is especially helpful when dealing with a toddler or preschool aged kid, who are tightly wound balls of emotions themselves.
I Am A Work In Progress
While therapy and meditation have both made significant impacts on my ability to manage my emotions with my son’s involvement in sports, I am far from perfect. There were a handful of instances during my son’s toddler soccer and preschool t-ball leagues where I felt myself becoming way more emotional and or concerned about his play than I needed to be.
Seeing my son staring off into the clouds while a play is taking place or goofing off with another kid instead of participating in a drill somehow agitated feelings in me that were too intense in the context of preschool aged sports. I thankfully did not always give into or react on those feelings, but they were there.
I constantly feel compelled to coach up and correct my son in his moments of meandering about the field. It is a challenge because there are teachable moments within those situations, but kids also need space to just be kids too.
At one point, during my son’s first organized year of t-ball, I ran to the side of the field and chided at him to pay attention to the game. He had been embroiled in antics with another kid and was continually missing plays taking place all around him. I did not yell, but I was clearly demonstrating frustration to my son publicly on the field. I could tell my urgency shut down my son a bit.
I should have waited until that half inning was over to speak with him off to the side or even waited until the game was completely over. I succumbed to my own negative emotions in that moment and did not do right by my son. I committed to try and avoid showing him up again after that lapse in judgment.
I am happy to report the following year I volunteered to coach my son’s t-ball team and wound up being the only parent to coach his team. I feel like I held onto my personal commitment of wanting to coach my son in a constructive manner, while also allowing him space to be a kid. I meditated every single morning, just prior to practices, and it made a noticeable difference in my ability to be present and enjoy the coaching experience.
The Overwhelming Positives Of Youth Sports
Young kids getting involved in sports is nothing short of awesome. Having your kid be coached and mentored by other adults, building relationships with other kids, and learning the rules of a structured activity are all remarkable benefits of participating in organized sports activities.
As parents, watching our kids gain confidence and glow over a triumphant moment can be highly rewarding and enjoyable. It can be equally satisfying as a parent to help them overcome shyness and trepidation in regards to organized activities as well.
It is critical for our own kid’s development and our own parental sanity, though, that we take some time to put proactive care into checking our own emotions. Kids sports has a unique way of touching some raw nerves in our being that we may have never even knew existed. Things can get unwound rather quickly as a result.
The underlying cause of these emotions may not be as important as simply recognizing them and allowing yourself some space and stillness to not give into them. Take some action steps and put in the time for proactive care of yourself. Both you and your kid deserve to experience the true joy of youth sports.