By David Benzel
In the early years of my son’s baseball career, the car ride home was always fun and cheerful — win or lose. As I look back now it’s obvious to me which one of us started taking the fun out of that car ride. MY need for constant improvement and performance excellence turned me into a play-by-play analyst rather than a supportive dad. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was being supportive — by pointing out all the opportunities for improvement! I soon realized my son was becoming more and more defensive during this period of our relationship. At times the car ride home became a tension-filled encounter. I became eager to fix all the mistakes in the game and my son was on-guard and ready to defend every action as justifiable — even a blown play.
Fortunately, things changed for the better before it was too late. The conversations became constructive and non-confrontational, in spite of the normal strike outs and errors that come with baseball. This drastic improvement came as a result of the coaching I received from my wife. While I wanted to believe the entire problem could be attributed to my son’s defensiveness, the truth convicted me more than I wanted to admit. Here’s a summary of what she had the wisdom to see and pass along to me in spite of my initial stubbornness!
When I realized I was guilty of being insensitive to these realities the answer became so obvious. The first thing I changed was my opening line after getting in the car. Here it is: “I love watching you play.” Next, “Are you hungry; where do you want to go?” Then I learned to wait until my son’s emotions settled. I had to patiently wait until the time was right based on his readiness, not mine. My son actually wanted to know what I saw on the field and what help I could give, but not at that moment. When I learned to wait until I was invited into the conversation everything changed. The more patience I showed, and the less criticism I delivered, the more often we had productive discussions about things that mattered.
One other positive element entered our post-game conversations. We learned more from each other because we spent more time asking each other good questions rather than lecturing each other. We discovered that better questions led to better answers. Today we know neither of us has all the answers, but together we can figure out the next step in finding what we lack. Most importantly, we use this same style of communication to talk about other things like school, finances, spiritual matters, and girls!
I’ve described this family lesson the way it happened in our case. For you it might be Mom who reacts like I did after a game — eager to fix things. Learn to trust the one who shows the most patience and the most empathy for a young athlete’s emotions after a game — in joy and disappointment. The voice of reason is the one who knows how to wait for an invitation to the conversation.
CLICK HERE to ask David Benzel a question about this topic:
David Benzel is the Founder and Executive Director of Growing Champions for Life, Inc., which provides parents and coaches with practical tools & positive strategies for helping athletes reach their full potential while enjoying the youth sport experience. David is also the author of “From Chump to Champ – How Individuals Go From Good to Great” www.growingchampionsforlife.com.