I turned 42 years old this year and I started playing organized sports when I was about 7 years old, so...let me do some math here...that makes it about 35 years that I have been in sports as a participant, coach or administrator.
In that time I have seen and heard a lot of speeches, preaching, leading, coaching, teaching, musing, philosophising, etc. This has been from coaches, fellow players, parents, pupils, colleagues, gurus, and on down the line. I have almost heard it all. I can say that unless there has been a significant level of SUBSTANCE to what has come out of a given person's mouth, I really don't think it has meant a lot to me. In fact, if there is a lack of SUBSTANCE I actually find it offensive that someone would think I, or anyone else, might be interested in their sermons. I am confident I am not alone in this assertion.
So what is this SUBSTANCE I speak of? Well, it has a lot to do with "walking the walk versus talking the talk" and little to do with "do as I say, not as I do". In the awesome free world we live in (well, mostly free) we can pretty much say whatever we want. An incredible right and privilege we have. However, there is nothing that constitutionally guarantees that whatever we say actually means anything. I believe that the only way your words have meaning is if you actually LIVE THEM everyday...in the flesh...not in your fantasies.
So how can this apply to baseball and baseball leadership? Well, let's focus on youth baseball. The two main adult influencers we have in youth baseball are parents and coaches. And let's face it, most of the time either of those two factions has a lot of preaching and coaching and teaching going on. Sometimes too much. All with good intentions, but in terms of its effectiveness, perhaps sometimes missing the mark on the impression it is intending to make.
With this being the case I am going to pick on parents here, not maliciously, but with a genuine desire to share my observations on how you might be able to speak less to your kids about sports, and instead SHOW them, mostly silently, how to achieve their goals.
- Commitment - This is a common preaching ground in sports: Your level of commitment as an athlete. It comes on down from the coaches and gurus and usually gets reinforced at home. "You know son you have to be really committed to make it." And this is true. So true. Rarely does an athlete "make it" without an inordinate amount of commitment to their craft. But how are you at honouring your own commitments? Do you always keep that promise to play catch with your son every Friday night? Or does something often get in the way, even if it is highly important? Remember, your child doesn't really understand the level of importance you might be dealing with on a regular basis in your professional life. All they remember is dad (or mom) not playing catch when they said they would. Or another example is letting your kids out of their commitments. What are we telling them? That message might be "Commitment is a great concept when it is convenient." But commitment is often not convenient. It is certain to be inconvenient at times. What is your response? What are you silently telling your young athlete? The fact is that commitment is a...commitment...a bond...a promise. It is not a convenience and the true test of our own respect for commitments is how we, as adults, honour them when they become inconvenient. Remember - the kids are watching.
- Respect - A great lesson in sports, and more importantly in life, is that of treating others with respect. You will likely not last long in sports without showing respect to coaches, referees, umpires, teammates and opponents. You will get brandished as having an "attitude" and frankly, no one will want to play with or coach you. And if you lack that element of respect in life, well...we all do know the odd person who seems successful AND disrespectful, but I believe that is the exception, not the rule. So do a self-checkup on how you are showing respect in life. How do you treat the server at the restaurant? The gas attendant? Your spouse? Your friends? No matter what we TELL our kids about respect, they are far more likely to act as WE ACT, not as we say.
- Eating Habits - In the last few years, the subject of proper nutrition has really hit the forefront, not only at the higher levels of sports, but also at the youth level. We are big proponents of proper nutrition here at The Baseball Zone and SST Mississauga as well and over the last few years have seen that shift extend to players' homes too. This is great. Really great. But is your athlete on their own at home in this nutritional change? Are they HEARING you tell them about what they are supposed to eat because that is what so and so told them to do...and then proceed to watch you eat a pizza while they eat their skinless chicken and broccoli? Or are you joining this nutritional change? Are you along for the ride, actually going through the same cravings and temptations that your young athlete is? Because proper nutrition is so much easier said than done, and it is also more easily accomplished when it is a family affair. And at the very least, I can assure you that if you start to eat like an athlete, you will start to feel more like one as well, and that is a good thing. So join in and show the way.
- Empathy - Along the same lines as the proper eating habits, but in a more general sense. Take a few moments from time to time to harken back to when you were a kid playing sports. How much did you just ABSOLUTELY LOVE your mom or dad or coach constantly in your ear telling you to do this or do that? I highly doubt you did. At the heart of our reasons for playing any sport is that we LOVE to play it. We didn't need umpires or coaches or parents. We could just figure something out. We neither wanted nor needed our parents to live vicariously through our sports exploits. Those pursuits were ours. We didn't need them telling us HOW to do something all the time - we were trying. Being good at sports ISN'T EASY. Now it is time to pay that forward. You (we) had your chance to live it, now it is our childrens' turn. We can't want it more than they do nor make them love it anymore than our own parents could for us. So remember that and remember the reasons we played a sport - for the LOVE of it - and perhaps pay more attention to harvesting that emotion in your child than to trying to be their 24-hour-a-day coach...because once the LOVE of a sport is gone, then all other pursuits within that sport will dissolve as well and I am fully confident that is the furthest thing from your true intentions.
Let's face it - we all want great things for our kids. There is no doubting that and there is nothing wrong with that. But sometimes it just might be prudent to take the time to honestly (and with humility) reflect upon our own methods, and more importantly, our own day-to-day examples of how our children can pursue their goals in sports and in life. Are we practicing what we preach? Are we living what we espouse? Is there SUBSTANCE to our sermons?
I think that these 4 examples are a great start for anyone to commence that reflection and self-assessment, and admittedly will be so as I embark on my own journey as a sports parent (I assume...no pressure boys). Our kids are watching us and it is our challenge as parents to deliver for them - it all starts at home.
PS - These suggestions are by no means an exhaustive list, and I invite everyone to share their own thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.