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June 1, 2009

"Bad" Baseball Mom reveals how, like many of us, she struggles to encourage her son while quieting private thoughts of disappointment, despair


I'm honored to post this honest, heartfelt confession from a long-time friend and fellow sports mom. She expresses some difficult feelings that I, too, have wrestled with:

I’m happy to post as a guest blogger for my buddy Crazy, whom I’ve known for years. While she’s Crazy in Suburbia, I’m Crazy on Suburbia’s fringe, as I live on the other side of the tunnel. The foggy side.

I’m going to title this post, “Bad Mommy,” because of a pressing matter. To get to the point, I have a son in Little League. He’s in fifth grade. (Same era as Crazy’s kid.) His team is having one of those roller coaster seasons with lots of ups and downs. Maybe I should say lots of downs and some ups.

Now, I’m a good mom about Little League and competitive sports: meaning I don’t push my son hard; it’s his choice whether to play; I encourage him to have fun, relax, enjoy his team, aim for his personal best, and not worry about the scores.

"It’s only a game," I say. "Win some, lose some; this is life."

But. ... I confess to having a bit of a competitive streak. And while I truly believe all the above, especially when we’re talking about kids’ sports, I’m also vulnerable to emotional ups and downs based on my son’s team’s performance. I feel high when they win; low when they lose. I try hard to hide these feelings from my son, because I know they aren’t helpful. He feels bad enough after a bad game. He certainly doesn’t need to his mom to feel bad, too.

But last night I struggled, teetering on the edge of Bad Momdom. My son’s team got beat really badly in a dragged-out game. They gave up a healthy lead in the last two innings, completely falling apart; their third loss in a row, and this mom felt like crap all evening. It was low-grade crappy feeling, but crappy nonetheless.

I tried super hard not to let it show. I said lots of upbeat things about “bad luck” and the “damned heat.” I remarked on his good plays. Lots of versions of “tomorrow’s another day.”

Yet, inside, I still feel, well, disappointed. Bummed. I was even embarrassed when a couple of neighbors asked later how the game had gone. Try as I might, I’m sure my son picked up on this. I was a little testy all night. Bad mommy.

Do any of you know this place?

I sincerely believe that us parents, we really need to get over it, and not hinge our emotions on the sports wins and losses of our kids. All this does is pressure them to perform for us—on top of all they’re learning about their game and team play.

I know there are really Bad Moms and Dads out there who get so emotionally invested in their kids’ sports that they start fistfights at games, or worse. Spit on refs. Throw tantrums. I read these stories with horror, and pity their kids. But hey, I woke this morning feeling guilty about my own self-indulgence last night; vowing to adjust my attitude for the rest of the season. I hope I can.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think there's a balance, not to go too crazy like you read about in the papers, but not to be so unconcerned that you unconsciously encourage your kids to be satisfied with mediocre. I think people on your side of the tunnel tend to be the latter if I'm not mistaken. Go see the Incredibles to see what I mean. And as the mom, I think you should be the nurturer anyway, so don't worry too much.

DodgerDog said...

I have coached baseball for many years, from t-ball up through 15 year olds. I have also coached youth soccer and basketball.

As a coach, I ALWAYS instructed the parents and youth at the parents meeting before we ever held our first practice: We have two goals:
1) To have fun.
2) To continually improve.

And if we accomplish our two goals, the winning will take care of itself. I never promised a championship.

I wanted the kids to have fun, or they would want to quit. (Most youth give up organized team sports at 12 years old.)

As kids see improvement in themselves, and improvement as a team, they tend to have more fun. And youth that are having fun, and can see and feel themselves getting better, tend to win. Not always, but more often than not.

(By the way, my baseball teams did win championships, and I have been chosen to coach all-star teams.)

In the dugout, and in the coaches box, I am oblivious to what is going on in the stands. One game, I had to come late, and I sat in the bleachers with the parents until the inning was over and I could go into the dugout. I was shocked at what I heard. Literally 5 or 6 different adults shouting instructions (all different) to the kid at the plate. It was very enlightening, and disappointing.

I think as parents, we have to encourage our youth, give positive feedback AND at times CONSTRUCTIVE criticism (and that probably shouldn't be in the car on the way home.) I don't believe in 'every player gets a trophy- we're all winners mentality'. But I understand it's the way of the world in youth sports these days.

Look at professional baseball players- the best make an out 70% of the time. The best make a handful of errors every year. We should expect BETTER from our 10 year olds as they are learning the game??

Physical errors are a part of all sports. What I always hope to cut down on are the mental mistakes. Again, even the pros make them. 10 or 12 year olds are certainly going to make them- it's all part of the learning process.

Why are you embarrassed that your son's team lost? Did your son give his best effort? Did the team give 100% effort? If so, losing is nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes the other team is just better. Sometimes the physical or mental errors happen at the worst possible time.

There is an organization out of Stanford called Positive Coaching Alliance. The founder of it has written several books that I would recommend- "Positive Coaching" and "The Double-Goal Coach", both by Jim Thompson. (And no, I'm not Jim Thompson.)

In my opinion, the greatest coach in U.S. major sports history is John Wooden, the men's basketall coach at UCLA that won a bunch of titles. He did not emphasize winning- he emphasized performing at maximum effort those things he taught his players in practice, and if they did, the winning would follow, which it did. Virtually every year.

As parents, it seems to me a pretty good model to follow. Focus on what your son has learned, and what he has improved on, and when mistakes are made, ask him what if he learned anything, and if so, what. Remember, physical errors are part of all sports, at all levels. And your son should NEVER, EVER feel that his parents are embarrassed, or that their love is conditional on how their team did.

I realize this has been lengthy, but I hope something in this helps.

Anna, The Lemon Lady said...

Dodger Dog,

How thoughtful of you to write such a lenghty post. Nice to see genuine people reading this blog, those who take the time to encourage others! Sweet.

I'm only new at Momdom. She does like catch ball though. And, its all about "Yay Ava", "Yay Mommy", "Yay Daddy". Yay, hooray. Everybody wins.

Have a good night.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:15 pm
I know what you're saying but adults pushing kids not to be "mediocre." But part of growing up/being a kid is being mediocre, and bad, and great; failing and losing. I think parents need to send the message that all this is OK. You don't need to be a star to be a good person, or happy. Try your hardest, sure. But medicore isn't a bad thing.

Masterlock said...

I should put you guys in touch with my mom as I played high school and college football which was absolutely brutal on her, although she never let me know at the time. She had to sit and grit her teeth while I got hurt time and again and take me to the doctor, surgeries and rehab and then go out and play again. I never knew how bad it was for her until after my last college game when she broke down in tears because she was just happy I'd survived with nothing (too) permanent.

Anonymous said...

thank you to Dodger Dog.

I have coached my kids teams for a few years, and I am going to print out your suggestion and give it to the parents on my next team

Soccer Mom said...

Great comments, Dodger Dog, and a great guide to parents.

I served as "field marshal" for the Walnut Creek Soccer Club. This is a parent position, in which you basically hang out and listen to make sure that the parents aren't misbehaving (yelling at referees, coaching from the end zone, etc.). We were to report "bad" parent behavior to coaches, who, as you said, were usually so focused on coaching that they couldn't pay attention to what the parents were saying or doing.

I have to say that most of the "negative" comments I heard, berating kids for not trying hard enough, or yelling, "why did you do that?" from a few of the dads. I couldn't help but feel like these men's egos were wrapped up in how their 4th grade son performed in a house league on a Saturday morning. Jeez.

I think Baseball Mom was voicing some honest feelings some of us have deep down, and know we shouldn't. Yes, I've felt disappointment when my son's team (if it's a close game) has lost or is having a bad day. I've felt excited when his team wins. I get nervous when, for example, he was the goalie. I worried for him, that he'd feel bad if he let one shoot past him. I think Baseball Mom was explaining her struggle to remain upbeat and positive for her son's sake--even if deep down inside she wasn't feeling that way. She's showing an awareness that some of those other parents I mentioned above apparently don't have.

They think it's their right and duty, I guess, to their child's well-being. I've seen some kids come off the field with pretty crushed faces, having to face their angry, disappointed fathers.

And, this isn't "competitive" soccer. This is the kind of soccer that is supposed to be fun, recreational, and, we hope, to instill a life-long love of the game and of being physically active.

DodgerDog said...

My experience with kids, up through age 12, has been that 5 minutes after the game, you can not tell if they won or lost the game. They are focused on the team snacks. But one look at the parents tells you how the team did. From my experience, that seems to change at 13. I suspect that it's because most kids quit playing around 12 years old, and the better, and/or more competitive, and/or lovers of the sport keep playing, and it means more to them.

I've probably coached several hundred youth over the years, and as far as I know, only one has signed any type of professional sports contract. And only a couple have gone on to receive college scholarships. So, from my experience, the OVERWHELMING majority of kids that play sports will never receive any type of financial gain (contract or scholarship). They play for fun, and hopefully not to fulfill their parents unsatisfied dreams of athletic glory.

lorrielovesparties said...

My 9-yr old son plays in multi-league. It is a little more casual than little league. He is not very athletic but is very good at baseball. He was the best player on the team this year, and yet does not want to play next year. Bummer! I just want him to be good at one sport for his sake. So when he gets into Middle School he won't be the one left out or made fun of. He is very artistic though, so maybe he will find his nich in that area?

Anonymous said...

The best thing to teach your kid is to enjoy the opportunity for a learning experience.

Win or lose, ask "What did you learn today." You might be pleasantly surprised and amused at what you hear.

The best coaching happens off the field. No amount of yelling will deliver the message you want...no matter how logical or how loud...kids will hear something different.

Soccer Mom said...

DodgerDog,
Right once again. Yes, kids under 12 don't stay all that upset about losing--not once the snack arrives.

It's too bad that kids give up on sports. I say this as someone who NEVER did sports as a child or teen. I've heard that in order to make certain high school teams around here, such as Las Lomas High's girls soccer team, your daughter needs to be in competitive soccer starting in 4th grade. The teams are made up of a select group of girls who have grown up on those teams--and there is no room for new additions.

Sure, the girls (or boys) in competitive soccer (or other sports) have the skills and desire to play, but it would be nice if a talented player, or someone who suddenly blossoms at 14 or 15, has a chance to get on the team. Kids develop at different paces.

And, DodgerDog, you mention how very few kids wind up with sports scholarships or go onto the pros. Yet, some parents push, even hiring special sports coaches.

My husband and I have the feeling that our son will be one of those who opts out of organized sports at 12, 13.Unless he will surprise us and join one of the non-competitive house teams. We just want him to stay active.

DumbAsBricks said...

I wouldn't call hiring a special coach or giving supplemental instructions "pushing".

When I played in Little League, I started on the worst team and I ended on the worst team. However, I made the AllStars every year because I wanted to improve.

My dad fostered that with lots of quarters for batting practice, a series of homemade targets, tees, and plenty of ice (on his hand... I played pitcher).

My only regret was that my father didn't know enough about soccer, basketball, and football so that he could help me excel in those sports too.

DumbAsBricks said...

It is your responsibility as a parent to *ALLOW* your kids to learn how to be good at something.

Anonymous said...

We teach our children to strive for a new personal best each time they play.

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