Parenting Kids Who Cry In Sports
The Typical Scene-The game has just started. I watch my 10-year-old son attempt the first shot of the game and miss, and I know what will come next. It happens in slow motion. As he runs back on defense, his head goes back and I can see that there are tears welling up in his eyes. I can see that he is trying to rein it back in. I look to see if anyone else notices, and I’m glad they don’t seem to. But I know that if he misses his next shot, not only will he lose it completely and start to cry, but it will also ruin his chance to recover and play well for the rest of the game. And he will be absolute hell to drive home with.
I sit on the edge of my seat, hopeful that today is the day—the day he will realize that if he can rein in that frustration and use that passion to recover and focus on the next play, he will achieve the success on court that I know he can. But he misses again, and the tears start to flow.
You Can’t Teach Passion-You can’t teach passion. I have said that over and over again to the parents of athletes who participate in our basketball programs at Elite Camps. In reassuring them that we can teach their child through sport how to deal with loss—and we can!—I also tell them that it is much easier to teach a child to control their emotions and use them as a tool to excel if that child is passionate. But it is impossible to teach them how to be passionate.
Some Advice-If parents get super-frustrated when their child flies off the handle at a loss, we remind them that life is full of losses, both big and small, and the emotional losses that happen in sport can help prepare children to deal with and bounce back from other losses they may experience.
The Reality-Now, does that help me in the moment when all I want to do is shield my boy from the pain of loss? Absolutely not! I want to march across the court and wipe away his tears, give him a big hug, and go and buy him a donut to cheer him up. I want him to feel success. But, what do I do instead?
I listen to the crying and frustration all the way home, and at the next practice I ask his coach to create a drill where my child is set up to lose over and over again. Why? Because I know that the more he fails, the more opportunity he will have to practice recovering. That’s going to be good for his game, and it’s going to be good for him, because eventually he will be able to translate that skill to handle losses off the court.
In My Experience-That might seem cold hearted, but as a seasoned camp director I know it works. I have not met a child yet who has not learned how to deal with a loss on court. Sure, each child is different and some take way longer than others, but eventually they all get it.
I know how hard it can be parenting a passionate athlete who has not yet gained control of their emotions. My advice to sports parents? Don’t give in to your parenting instincts and try to shield them from the mental pain of losing. That pain will teach them one of the most important lessons sport can teach: how to get back up after a loss and work toward the win.
Stephanie is also the Founding Owner and Director of Elite Camps, the biggest basketball camp in Canada.
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Stephanie uses easy-to-understand principles—simple, relevant, practical solutions for dealing with mediocrity at work, at home and on the athletic field—without quick fix schemes.