By Lauren Taylor
I’m not a parent. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the sidelines watching your child compete – and feeling powerless. But I am a Gen-Y athlete who saw friends’ parents embarrass themselves in the stands of lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer games.
Heading into the Fall sports season, I want to give second life to something I read in the New York Times Magazine. An article about the Bryan brothers of tennis fame quotes their father saying something so quintessentially perfect, I couldn’t let it go without responding. In talking about a parent’s role in the aftermath of a game, match, or meet, he says:
“…win or lose, the script is the same: First question: Do you want water or Gatorade? Second question: Where do you want to get something to eat? Third question, if the child is 16 or older: Do you want to drive or should I? “It’s really that simple,” he observes. “If the child wants to talk about the match, you listen. But don’t critique. . . . Your role is to minimize pressure, not create it.”
Parents at all levels of organized sport need a serious reality check. You’re not the coach. You’re not the ref. And you’re not the SportsCenter analyst. It doesn’t matter if you played the game your kid is now playing for the past 50 years, none of that applies to your job as Mom or Dad.
Your role (as Wayne Bryan points out) is to be a pressure minimizer. The Bryan brothers’ success is a testament to this parenting style (in addition to a serious dose of God-given talent). My experience provides a similar lesson:
My father was the best sports-dad ever. He drove, he brought water, he watched quietly – and he hugged when it was all over. He never tried to create a ‘fire in my belly’ as I suspect other parents did, nor did he recreate circumstances from the game to tell me what I should have done. He let me be competitive on my own terms. In doing that, he preserved my absolutely authentic love of the game.
When I played well, yeah, we replayed the whole thing on the car ride home and over dinner. When I played poorly, we moved on to the next topic of the day. He was interested, but not overly invested. That was all I ever wanted, and it was all he ever did. Thanks, Dad.