Teach your kids well

Recently, we have been hosting some 3 versus 3 pick up games for eight and nine year old boys and girls. They are really fun events that we hold on Friday nights, we bring in some pizza, and the kids play until their hearts are content.

For the most part, the parents drop off their kids and head to a pub with the other parents and enjoy a little adult time. Some parents do like to stay and watch the kids play. Because I have created an environment where the kids own the games, the parents who do stay understand that there is no coaching permitted. They are not allowed to talk to the kids while they are playing. It should be noted that the reason for this is that when children are allowed to own their play, there is an increased likelihood that they will develop a stronger sense of passion towards that activity.

For anyone accustomed to the typical screaming and yelling during a youth sporting event, the relative calm during our pick up games is quite comforting.

While all of this really positive play is going on, there is an interesting phenomenon that begins to unfold while watching the children play. I started to pick up on this several years ago when my kids were about six or seven years old. Every time my child touched the ball while playing soccer, he would turn around afterwards and look towards me. For the parents who do stick around to watch, I’m seeing the same thing happen with their children.

Have you ever wondered what they are looking for? While I know fully well what’s at play here, I wonder how many parents are cognizant of the dynamic that is taking place? Like the input that we often provide before or after a game, our children have become accustomed to seeking feedback during the game, only this time it’s nonverbal.

I’ve addressed this issue of non-verbal feedback in my book, but as I learn more and more about the long term emotional challenges that children are carrying with them into adulthood, I see where the early onset of this behavior is leading to these more serious emotional problems. We seem to be programming our children to be dependent upon our constant input and feedback. Without even realizing it, our body language is sending them very clear messages. These can be messages of approval, disapproval, disappointment, or possibly, a message that gets misinterpreted. As discussed in an earlier article (Could Over Praise Be Polarizing Our Children?), children have become too dependent on our praise of ordinary achievements to the extent that when they become adults, they do not possess the confidence to succeed in the competitive real world. They are afraid to take risks.

Last week while attending a high school basketball game, a dad in the stands kept coaching his son from the bleachers. A high school game. What struck me was the fact that the boy kept looking towards his dad when he was yelling to him. For me, this clearly illustrates a significant problem that we have in youth sports. Not only was the dad wrong, but the boy kept acknowledging him...also wrong. In my facility where we host these 3 versus 3 pick up games, I make it a habit to clearly state the expectations for everyone (kids & parents) at the first event. I tell the parents that they are not permitted to talk to the children during play, and that they should refrain from any kind of coaching when the children come off the floor. I ask them to abide by my rules so that I’m not forced to embarrass them should they not comply.

I, like most parents, truly enjoy watching my kids play sports. What I started to do when my son kept looking at me after he touched the ball was to immediately look away or pretend to be engaged in a conversation with another parent. I got to enjoy watching him play, and he soon began to own his game and not feel dependent upon me for an immediate response.

Teach your kids well. Let them own the game!

- Steve Locker