Parental passion refined – Raising championship children
Posted by Dean Holden at April 17th, 2013
by Adam Naylor, EdD, CC-AASP, 22 March 2013
“We’ve been really looking forward to this presentation,” was the collective greeting that a group of golf parents gave my friend and colleague Matt Cuccaro. They had come with their children to Hilton Head Island for a long weekend of golf instruction and education on competitive athlete development. As the weekend was winding down parents were invited to join Matt to learn about “Building a Champion: A Parent’s Perspective.” I had the opportunity to sit in the back of the room to eavesdrop on the conversation.
I enjoyed the hour and half of lively discussion. The parents clearly love their children. Also they seemed to sense what a challenge it can be to support without smothering both athletic and personal growth. While being a fly on the wall, I took particular note of the moments when parents went from attentive listening to feverish note taking. These parents were golf parents, lacrosse and baseball coaches, and sports lovers so had heard a lot about “proper” sports parenting over the years. The “ah ha” moments during the discussion are worth noting.
The first thing of note is how we can all get so darn serious when we care. In discussing researcher Jean Cote’s principle of “deliberate play” and its importance, the question arose, “Now how do I make my 8 year old’s play ‘deliberate?’” A caring question with the wrong focus. It is the “play” in deliberate play that needs to be emphasized. “Play” is not highly structured, but rather highly enjoyable. Step back and let the 8 year old lead the way.
The athlete plays, but parents do give feedback… how and what should be praised was another engaged discussion point of the morning. Carol Dweck has made it clear that using the language of effort over talent is core to great successes. Executing this is easier said than done however. This gathering of parents came to the conclusion that perfect athletic technique is difficult to attain and sometime is lacking during successes. They wondered, “Do I try to help them fix things when they are off?” In essence, potentially making an error of omission – withholding praise for a solid effort. Player development is ugly and athletic performances are rarely perfect, a wise parent minimizes coaching and finds a generous bandwith of goodness for which he praises efforts that were made earnestly. If a child executes a skill “right enough” with passion, then celebrate.
Lastly, upon considering the science, the parents determined that sometimes “blisters can be for bozos.” One of the key findings of the past 25 years in the research on excellence is that quality practice trumps quantity practice. In a society that thrives on fast food motivational wisdom this gets lost. There are many times and places to compete with and through injury, day to day practice is likely not one of these spots. Sport scientists have regularly shown that rest and recovery is as important to excellence as effortful practice. When considering the developing athlete, it is critical to consider when enough is enough practice-wise. Youthful enthusiasm and parent passion can both leave rejuvenating rest in the dust. Lots of practice is necessary to achieve excellence, but so is making sure both mind and body are ready regularly for quality efforts.
Sports parenting is tough. There is a fine line between supporting and smothering. It was exciting to see a room of passionate sport parents reflect and refocus on how best to play positive roles in their children’s growth and development.