Monday, November 21, 2016

Youth Sports and What ALL Parents Can Learn From a First Grader

This picture is what youth sports should be about. 
Smiles and happiness!
We just returned from a 2-day swim meet with the girls. And I am pretty sure it was the most intense swim meet thus far for our little family. 

Kalista had the flu and missed the first day. But she was able to battle back on the second day and had a great swim. We were so proud she pulled through even with all the tears from nerves and fear. She placed second in her heat and secured a white division time. Not bad for a 6 year old amongst 7 and 8 year olds. The smile on her face was the best!
And then there was Sophia...
Where do I even begin? She truly had a great swim meet. And I am not just saying this from a parent standpoint. One would think someone earning 5 out of 7 personal bests would be excited. One would think. But this is Sophia. Our Type A. Saturday did not give her the results she wanted. The results she had been working to achieve. She swam the hell out of that 50 yd free. She needed a 32.8. She touched with a 33.67. And yes, I know the above pic is not freestyle. That's hard to capture on an iPhone without it looking all like white water. :) 

Oh the tears! Not only from her on the outside, but from me on the inside. To hear your child say, "I hate myself. I didn't do it. I tried so hard. I am so disappointed in myself. This was my time." Well, it's gut wrenching. There was nothing we could say at that moment (and even later that evening) that would have changed how she felt. We knew she was not going to process the logistics of her age, her build, etc. We knew she was super emotional. We listened and we understood how she was feeling. We innately empathized.
This brings me to the real reason why I am writing this post. And I AM NOT an authority on how parents/adults should behave in youth sports. But I can say, Kalista and her first grade class are the authority and definitely have a lesson to teach some parents: EMPATHY. Her class has been learning what it means to be empathetic. What it means to "put yourself in that person's shoes." It has been a wonderful topic of discussion during our routine car rides.

Sophia and I witnessed two separate events at our swim meet. Neither occurrence was from our swim club. I noticed a young girl (either 11 or 12 years old) visibly upset with her performance in the 200 yd IM. In steps her mother. I was sickened with how she handled her daughter's feelings. I sadly watched this mom scold her daughter. I was a few feet away from earshot but a pointed finger in the face and a piercing look did not give way to a positive pep talk. Not one hug. Not one sign of, "Good job." Not one sign of, "I am so proud of you." Not one sign of, "I'm sorry." Even though I had no idea who she was nor had I watched her race, I felt so sad for her. I felt empathy, where the girl's mother did not. Then there was Sophia's encounter. She told us she watched a father yell at his daughter because she was disqualified in the 100 yd breaststroke. As if that athlete didn't already feel upset and disappointed. Sophia said she felt so bad for the girl. She felt empathy, where the girl's father did not.

I am not one to confront total strangers, but the defensive part of me would loved to have told those 2 particular parents too hop in that pool and swim what their daughter's just swam. And the rational part of me would loved to have asked if they could just put themselves in their daughter's shoes? Could they empathize?

It's not a parent's job to critique their athlete. They have coaches who are well versed in this area. THANK GOD! My husband and I are thankful Sophia has a coach (thank you Micaela!) who is not only empathetic but encouraging, nurturing, and understanding all while empowering her with the positive skills she needs to take note in areas that need more focus and effort.

Sadly, I am sure what Sophia and I saw is not an uncommon experience with young athletes. And for that, I wish I could apologize on behalf of their parents. Next time, I may not interfere with those kinds of parents but I will definitely make it a point to acknowledge their athlete's efforts. And just maybe that parent will overhear and learn what my daughter's first grade class has already learned.