All over our great land, scenes like this play out too often. Sports are supposed to be fun. Inherent in all sports is a danger of being injured. But, this should be limited to the field, the court, the ice, etc. Far too many of our youth are being hurt from the stands.
Children need three things to grow in to healthy, happy, and productive adults. They need to feel loved, have structure, and feel safe. If one or more of this essential building blocks is missing, the chances that child will struggle emotionally and behaviorally increase dramatically. Upon reaching the teenage years, a teen may turn to drugs, alcohol, and other assorted rebellious behavior, as he or she searches for ways to escape the pain of feeling not good enough, a failure, and not having met the expectations of his or her parent(s).
All children need to feel loved, have structure,
and feel safe
As a psychotherapist practicing the art and science of Narrative Therapy, it is our relationship with our own problem(s) that is the problem. As no one, no parent, is perfect, childhood is often a place where a lot of problematic relationships are formed. Relationships with low self esteem, fear, depression, anxiety, and guilt, are often created in the developing mind.
If these relationships continue to be “fed” by adults, these problems can grow and become monstrous. Instead of a child blooming, a child will wilt. They will learn that being vulnerable, an essential component of creating deep, loving relationships, is bad and needs to be avoided. Walls will be erected, defenses will go on full alert, and other problematic relationships, such as relationships with anger, shame, hypervigilance and hypersensitivity, just to name a few, may manifest.
One of the hallmarks of youth sports is that inherent in them are positive values and important life lessons. There are so many teaching moments that arise on a daily basis. Lessons about winning, losing, sportsmanship, honor, integrity, loyalty, decency, fairness, empathy, sacrifice, respect, responsibility, and courage are just some of the many positive human values that are on the field for the taking. This is why we, as a society, are so interested in sports at all levels and why many parents encourage their children to participate.
I was curious about the current state of mind in regard to kid’s and parent’s mindset in 2017. So I sat down with Mike Barger, an accomplished athlete having played baseball in his youth, as well as in the army, where he also played football, and then played professional golf. Mike has been umpiring baseball games, little league, high school, city leagues, charity events, and once umpired the USC /UCLA professional football player’s alumni baseball game, since the 1960’s.
ROD: Mike, thanks for taking the time to meet with me.
MIKE: No problem. Happy to do so.
ROD: You have been umpiring for a long time. I am curious, what has changed over the almost 60 years that you have been calling baseball games from behind home plate?
MIKE: Well, not that much. For the most part, parents, coaches, and players remain respectful. But, there are always those players, coaches, and parents that want to argue over balls and strikes. Recently, I had to call time in a game to call the coaches over to have a conference. I let them know that if anyone started to argue about a ball or strike call they would be gone. People can get very emotional. As a parent, coach, or player you want to make sure the you are modeling good sportsmanship.
ROD: What do you think is the most important thing parents can do in regard to their children’s participation in sports?
MIKE: That’s easy. Encourage them, don’t belittle them. Children need the support of their parent(s). Children need to be cheered on and supported. Your child needs your support. It is not up to your child to support his or her parent(s). That only puts undue pressure on a child. The worst thing a parent can do is to put down his or her child; to make a child feel that he or she is not good enough, failing, or not living up to his or her potential in the eyes of the parent.
ROD: Have you ever had to throw someone out of a game or out of the stands for being inappropriate?
MIKE: Yes. There have been times where someone comes unglued and I need to get them out of there. I remember one game where a father kept yelling from the stands. The last straw was when he yelled that I was intentionally helping the other team. My response was “you’re gone!” I can only imagine what must have been going on in his child’s mind.
ROD: Besides encouraging a child, what else can a parent do to make the field a safe place for his or her child?
MIKE: Not all children are going to enjoy playing a sport. Don’t force your child to play a sport that he or she may not be interested in. Work to find out what your child is interested in. It may not be sports, but in doing so, you put yourself in the position of being able to encourage and support your child. Your child may be interested in music or science and have no interest in sports. Forcing your child to play a sport he or she has no interest in will only cause both you and your child a lot of stress and suffering.
ROD: Thanks for your time Mike.
MIKE: You’re welcome.
Mike made an interesting point in that encouraging children is very important. Within the word encouragement is the word courage. Courage is a not the absence of fear. Courage is going forward to face a challenge even if one is fearful or anxious. Fear is just one of a number of states of mental energy. And, fear, in the right amount, can be used to power courage. Thus, part of encouraging children is to help them face fear or anxiety in order to be able to move forward and to challenge themselves free of the weight that fear and anxiety manifest. The worst thing a parent can do is feed a child’s fear or anxiety by talking down to a child or making him or her fear failing. Instead, talk to your child about how anxiety or fear may be pushing them around.