Your child is having a great season as the post-season approaches. But he is worried. He asks you, his sports parent, a question: “What if I lose?”
The Vicarious Response
Vicarious sports parents reply along the lines of, “That’s not going to happen, you’re so good,” or “You shouldn’t think that way.”
If you’re a parent who responds this way, you’re likely living directly through your child’s success or failure. You still mean well and love your kid, but you’ve become too emotionally invested in his results.
Unfortunately, these parents lack the perspective to make rational decisions. They live and die with every play and every game. Their child is the best when he or she wins, and the worst when they lose. All or nothing.
- Are physically as close as they can be to every practice.
- Often blame others when important outcomes do not go well.
- Compare their son or daughter to others.
- Stress out quickly and easily.
- Usually shout instructions during games.
- Feel their child’s success is a reflection of themselves.
- Don’t realize they are living through their child.
The Supportive Response
Supportive sports parents, on the other hand, answer the “What if I lose?” question a different way, along the lines of, “Why do you think that?” or “Let’s walk through it. What if you do lose?” Supportive parents provide an environment that remains safe. They don’t try to solve their kid’s concerns. They encourage their children to think for themselves, come up with solutions and deal with their outcomes. Home is not a fan base. Sons and daughters of supportive parents can rest assured that in the house, no matter how they perform, their identity is not just as an athlete. They have unconditional love and support. These children are never nagged about their preparation or asked whether they’re nervous before important performances.
- Attend from a distance.
- Ensure their son or daughter assumes responsibility and never blame coaches or situations.
- Stress effort over results.
- Know their child’s performance is just a shadow of themselves, not a reflection.
- Make sure their behavior is never over the top.
- Are aware of long-term development.
Both types of parents make sacrifices and difficult decisions for their children along the journey. No one questions their love and support. But unfortunately, the vicarious and supportive labels are not mutually exclusive. We may be one type of parent with one child and another type with a second child. The pendulum can swing to both extremes, and some parents live in the middle. This is about progress, not perfection. We all make mistakes, but that’s the point.
How can we help our child build mental toughness? How can we become better, more aware parents in the process?