Parenting to the Buzzer

6 years ago

In December, I got an email from a professor asking if any students were interested in coaching basketball teams for the YMCA near our school. I won’t say that I jumped at the opportunity, but I thought about it for a while and decided that it sounded like something that I would be able to squeeze into my schedule and that I’d really enjoy being a part of. So in January, I began spending 2 hours a week with a bunch of 7 and 8 year old girls.

Play ball

On the whole, the experience was fantastic. I had a really great time and my players did as well. They don’t keep score at that age, so it really is all about having fun and I think we accomplished that each and every week, and hey we played some pretty good basketball too. But there was one thing that nagged at me.

I had one player, who was on the younger end our age group, who hadn’t played much basketball. She gave 100% at each practice, no doubt, but she wasn’t a stand out player. Since it’s a team sport, it was no big deal; she was a great defensive player and I did everything I could to lift her up and make her proud of the improvements she made throughout the season, just like the other players.

But her dad did not.

Every time we took a water break during practice or between quarters of the game, her dad called her over, away from the other kids, to tell her what she needed to do better. He would yell at her while on the court, even in practice, to play harder, to do x, y, or z and he almost never commended her for doing anything right. There were multiple days where she left practice in tears. Not from an injury, from her dad.

I am not a parent, and I know I’ll get criticism for this, but I am horrified by this father. I think he is doing the exact opposite of what he should be doing with his child. Yes, encourage her to participate in sports, yes, encourage her to play her hardest, to give it her all. Yes to all of that. But to berate a 7 year old for not getting rebounds when she is clearly afraid of getting hit in the face with the ball? Or to yell at her across the court in a game because she made a bad pass?

No. I’m sorry, no. That is not how you raise a child, that’s how you break one.

Each week I could see more and more of this little girl's sparkle fading. I could see that basketball became less fun and more exhausting, not just physically, but mentally. And all I could think is, is it really worth this? Is having your child be good at something really worth tearing them down to get there? Do we really care so much that our kids are the best at some sport, more than we do about their happiness?

I think that there are a lot of parents who are doing a fantastic job. In fact, two mothers from my team were talking and one suggested that the other’s daughter should definitely play college basketball (and to her credit, this kid is outstanding at basketball) and her mother replied, “only if she wants to.” I wanted to hug her, I want to put her on a pedestal, because this is what we should be doing for our kids.

We’ve somehow set our focus on first place, and everything else stopped mattering. And I think that’s wrong. And I may not have children, I may not know the first thing about being a parent, but I watched a child dissolve because she was constantly reminded by her father that she wasn’t the best. I watched a child feel like a failure for doing the best she could. And I don’t think I need to be a parent to point out that we need to do better.

Let your kids be kids. Let them do things that make them happy, even if they’re not the best. Let them try new things and even occasionally fail. Be there to pick them up, to give them a high five and tell them that you’re proud of them.

And mean it.

Photo Credit: dorkdog

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