Tears of A Child
Warning: This might be painful to read but you will be glad you read it
I want to take a few minutes to share some things that are on my heart right now. I recently had the opportunity to work with a young catcher who significantly impacted me. For his privacy, we will name him Joe. As I write this post I am sitting in an awesome crepe restaurant in San Francisco, watching the cars roll by, people chatting, the typical bustle of a city. I can't help but think about how fast our world moves in the 2016 US society. As I flew here early this morning from NC to work with more catchers, Joe's face and eyes have been playing over and over in my mind. I jotted down a few notes in my journal about him during my 5 hours in the air that I think are important to be shared with parents and coaches alike. This may even benefit some young catchers out there who read it as well. I am sharing this to bring awareness to parents and coaches and peace to young catchers (or any young athlete) out there who may be reading this.
I'm not sure how old Joe was. Somewhere in his early teens. Not the biggest guy. Scrawny, Big smile. Nervous laugh. It was the nervous laugh that stood out the most to me. I don't mind a small catcher and I love seeing a catcher with a big smile, but the nervous laugh is a familiar one that I often hear from young catchers. As I work with kids who show the nervous laugh I always want to identify if the nervousness is from being with a professional in a one on one environment or if it is something else. Typically when it is being with a pro the nervousness goes away quickly and if it is because of something else it usually doesn't go away until I stop everything and address it. I'm not certain as to where the nervousness comes from but my guess is fear of upsetting an authority figure. Joe seemed to be the latter. He was very careful not to make a mistake, tip toed around them, showed low confidence, was very apologetic when he did anything that could be considered a mistake, and beat himself up.
At some point during our training session I stopped everything we were doing and walked up to Joe, knelt down to his eye level since he was in his squat, and began to speak into his life. He was nervous, scared, timid, broken, but he was a good listener. As I calmed my voice and looked into his eyes, showing him love and compassion I could see and feel the nervousness start to disappear. It was as if he had been holding on to a heavy burden for years and was finally able to lay it down. As I spoke into Joe tears started to bubble up in his eyes. I could see the pain, the same pain I have experienced playing baseball, playing for someone else's approval, playing not to mess up, playing to impress someone. It is such a heavy burden to carry, and in that moment Joe was able to lay it down. From that point forward in his training session, he was a totally different kid. His mistakes were almost completely gone. His body language shifted form scared, timid, low self-esteem to a little lighter and a glimpse of confidence.
I see the same stuff all over the country. No matter where I go, I see kids who are broken and hurting. Mentally and emotionally beating themselves up, and I want to bring some awareness to the issue, hopefully helping parents learn how to better build their kids up.
Raising a child athlete is not easy, especially in baseball because the game is so filled with failure. When parents place too much importance on athletic success they are telling their child that his/her value is based on his/her performance. Think about that for just a minute. The value they feel as a person, not as an athlete. A human being. Wow, powerful stuff. This well serve to hurt the self image and perceived self-worth of the child, hurting their confidence and typically killing it altogether. Which in turn results in worse athletic performance, and possible dabbling in dangerous or self destructive habits and/or thoughts. It almost always leads to destructive self talk. This is cyclical. Parent expects too much, kid doesn't deliver, kid gets torn down, kid does worse, kid gets torn down, kid does worse, and on and on. Lets stop for a second, a few sentences back I said "perceived self-worth." I want to talk about that for just a second. I specifically used the word "perceived" because it is a lie. The kids usually "perceive" themselves as worthless or of little value, but it is simply not true. Whether they are valuable or not, if they perceive themselves as having little value then they will suffer. I am a firm believer that God created us all as valuable and your child athlete is not different. Ok, lets continue where we were...Performance based love from a parent is completely unacceptable. Your job as a pert is not to coach and/or critique your child athlete. your job is to provide a healthy atmosphere at home, provide a place to practice their skills, provide good equipment, provide opportunities, and most of all provide them with endless love. Notice that the word "provide" was mentioned over and over. Not coach, not critique, not lecture, but provide. You, as the parent, are the provider. Be the best provider you can be. Provide them with kindness, love, compassion, encouragement. Avoid lecturing them about their performance. Avoid criticism of their performance. Avoid sideline coaching. Be their biggest fan. Find joy in watching your child compete. You only get one chance. Once they grow up it's over. No more youth sports once your child becomes an adult. Enjoy it right now. Instill confidence deep into them. Instill a sense of worth into them. Fill them with love. Do this and notice two things...
1. Your enjoyment will improve
2. Their performance will improve
Lets face it, you're not a baseball expert. And most of the time neither is the coach. And just because you watch MLB games and listen to your child's private instructor doesn't mean you know enough to be coaching them. That is not to be an insult but it is the reality. Remember, your job as the parent is to love them, not teach them baseball. Be the best parent you can be. You are the only one who knows your kid the way you do. You know what kind of love they need. You can provide it to them everyday. There is a lot of great information out there that you can find about being a child athlete's parent. I highly suggest looking into the literature and educating yourself on strategies to be a better parent to your athlete. If you do that you will see that your relationship with your child will improve as well as their athletic performance.