[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Friday, October 3, 2014

Riding Home From Soccer Games - A False Teachable Moment

My children—all four of them—are playing soccer this fall. I have become a soccer-dad, driving a minivan and bringing the team snack in a cooler. During a parents meeting, they shared how many studies have asked collegiate and professional athletes, “What are your worst memories of childhood sports?” And study after study the same answer came back: The ride home after the game. 

Their parents wanted to help by discussing the game, pointing out ways their little athlete could do better next time. But the now grown-up athletes reported dreading those rides. Rather than feel helped, they said they felt badgered and defeated. 

And then he surprised me with his wisdom and simplicity. After the game, this coach said, parents should ask three--and only three--questions:

Did you have fun?
Did you work hard?
Are you hungry?

If they want to talk to you about the game, that's great. Let them share and listen well (which includes saying simple things to affirm you heard what they said). But don’t teach or even correct them. Just listen.

I would encourage one exception. It would be great to share specific things they did well and say you were proud of them. But don’t you dare poison that encouragement with a follow up comment like how they should do more things like that, or next time also do this other thing. Just make them aware of the pleasure seeing them play gives you.

If you really want to help your child improve their skills, then I suggest two options. First, become their coach. Most sports leagues are desperate for parents to help coach. Second, you could schedule a session with your child to work on skills. But separate that time from the game experience. And finish even those teaching sessions with clear communication about your love for your child.

As my children grow, and as my sense of responsibility to raise them well grows, I find myself searching for teachable moments—opportunities to pour wisdom into them. There’s so much I want them to understand—so much they need to know. But I’ve come to see that the ride home after the game is not a teachable moment.

When you force a teachable moment, it turns into a discouraging moment. Few things are more crushing to the heart of a child than feeling like they have disappointed their parents.

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