During the baseball season a few years ago I asked my eleven-year-old son what do all the kids in the dugout think when their parents urge them on with instructions and encouragement as they are playing the game?
He said bluntly, “they don’t like it.”
I further pressed him. What about when I call out some last second reminders just before you bat, you know, the things we’ve talked about during the week and to help you remember what to do.
Again, he didn’t mince his words and said, “Dad, it doesn’t help.”
He went on to say: “When I’m in the batter’s box I follow the instructions from my coach. I put myself in the zone to block out every other noise. It doesn’t help me, or any other kid when our parents are yelling things out.” I was staggered by his confident appraisal of the situation.
I went away and talked to a couple of players from our club who had played for Australia and in the minor leagues in the USA. They said their fathers always watched them quietly and never said a thing.
Let me say that again: never said a thing.
They may have cheered when their son and his team mates made a nice hit or play but they never put their own egos out there to think they would make the last minute difference to their son’s success or failure in the game.
I wanted to see this quiet behavior in practice and by chance I saw in the stands at a Sydney Blue Sox game a father of a player who had recently signed with the Detroit Tigers franchise. I watched him closely, very closely, looking for any signs of him shouting out encouragement or frustration from the stands. Nothing. Even when his son made an error on the field or was struck out the best he had was a subtle ‘oh well’ smile. I saw the same dad when he was watching his thirteen-year-old son play. The same. He just looked pleased to be there and allowed the coaches to do their job without him interfering. (This same dad also coaches other youth teams from his local club that don’t involve his children playing)
Over and over again, I read about the players that have gone far in the game and without fail the same story appears. The parents watched and enjoyed the game in silence. They let their kids play and enjoy themselves without putting the heavy burden of having to please the parent.
But I know my kid and I know what helps him or her. Really? Do you?
Baseball is a game designed for you to fail. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on our kids when they go to bat or are alone on the mound. And here I was thinking I could make the difference to my own son by sneaking behind the dugout to say some inspiring words; or have a special code I could call out that only he would understand; or as he swung and missed that my wisdom during his at bat would make the difference between him getting on base or not.
My son’s words ring loud and true even as I type, “Dad, it doesn’t help.” But I thought I was helping… all I was helping was my own ego and pride get in the way thinking I made the difference.
Yes, it is my own ego and pride riding on every success and failure of what my kid did out there.
At the end of a game or practice now, when I am driving my son home, I’ll tell him I enjoyed watching him play and note some good things he and the team did.
Possibly, and I mean possibly, I’ll try to have a laugh with him about some things that may have gone wrong. He already knows if anything went wrong out on the field. If I try to have some fun with it he generally opens up and tells me all about it.
When I ask him about anything that happened in the game I’ll phrase it in the right way so he doesn’t think it’s my ego and frustration doing the talking. Because, it’s not about me. My ego at times is dying to correct and criticize. Most of the time I wish it would just shut up and be still.
Don’t get me wrong, I still feel like yelling something beneficial out. I still think I can make a difference. I am known at times to be a fairly loud cheerer and quite the clown at some games.
But I’ve learnt to stop yelling instruction because, “Dad, it doesn’t help.”
Oh, if you find your child is always looking at you when he does something wrong on the field or while batting because he thinks he displeased you, why not move spots so your child doesn’t know where you are. Our kids want to please us already and it hurts them even more when they know our ego and pride is riding on the game and they feel they’ve let us down.
Seriously, make yourself and your voice a ghost. Take the pressure off them and let them be kids whom love the game where they can start learning some great lessons of life.
I’ve learnt my lesson from wise and talented men who played the game at the highest level, from watching a dad who has two talented sons playing the game, and from the honest mouth of my son. It’s a hard lesson, one that will pierce our hearts.
Let our kids say to us when they reflect back on how much they enjoyed the game, “Dad, Mum, you were a great help.”
By Mark Maguire