“The Look” does not have to lead to tension
I am pretty sure the author of the popular statement, “If looks could kill,” came up with it while watching an athlete responding to parental advice about how to play sports. Does that deadly look mean parents or kids are doing something wrong, no, but what it means is that the time for parents’ youth coaching days are dead – “over,” so parents should learn to shut up, at least for the most part and for the immediate future, because it is not going away soon.
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I’ve seen “the look” so often in my coaching career, including from my own kids when I gave baseball advice, even though I had vast baseball knowledge and experience. What is ironic is that the player’s coach says something to them and they are often all ears and enthusiasm; their parents followup with the same insight, and a split personality appears in the form of the deadly eyes. All sports parents know, or will learn, of the look I mean – the cold, dark stare with the limp body language. The player is inwardly screaming out, “What in the world can you tell me that can help or that I do not already know?” or “I have counted; you have said that six million times already in my lifetime, so enough already.”
Both sides have a point, as parents just want to help, but players have heard the same things probably close to a million times over the years. Unfortunately, unless sports parents put a zip on it, the youth athlete may begin to enjoy playing much less, even to the point of wanting to hang sports up.
When the look appears?
The thing is, one day the child listens intently, the next day the parent is Dr. Evil. It is like adults having great eyesight one day and the next day, reading glasses are necessary. Barring a miracle, the reading glasses are necessary for the rest of their lives, and similarly, parents probably are done as the player’s coach once the look arrives.
“The look” shows up at different ages for different families, and few are able to avoid that day, no matter how compassionate and helpful parents are. The most prominent time for it to show up is the 12-year-old age, give or take a year. Some relationships survive the puberty years, but the behavior shows up once kids reach high school. As mentioned, menacing acting youth does not make athletes evil, it is part of growing up, screaming out for independence from mom and dad.
I do not believe it is my job as one of the player’s coaches to tell parents how to parent, but once I see the look, I want to scream to parents, “It’s time to shut up and let their coaches coach. You have gotten them this far, but it is time to hand over the athletic coaching reigns.” When parents insist on grilling players after the look has arrived, many players begin to dread playing, or at least wish mom and dad would just disappear.
Of course, I am lighthearted with some of this dire talk, but parents should change their tune once the glaring begins to avoid unnecessary tension that may last for years. Some kids drop the look when they get through puberty and return to taking advice once again, but most youths have ended their playing days by that time.
Parental Tips to avoid the increased tension from the look
It is parents’ responsibility to care and try to help, so it is not easy to simply sit on the sidelines and offer nothing, but that is probably best. Following are some other tips for parents once the scowl arrives:
- First, parents should understand that this behavior means one thing – their child is normal – and they should not take the action personally.
- Give the child some space by not attending every game and practice.
- Similarly, do not act as if your day revolves around that day’s game, even though it probably does.
- Deflect the advice you give – “Remember what your coach tells you to do,” is better than giving the same tip that the player obviously has heard many times.
- Give advice as if it is an afterthought not something you are dying to say – for example, add your input much later than when the action occurs, as after dinner instead of right after games.
- Count to ten when you feel you have to say something, so you can choose words wisely and talk without the usual emotion that all parents naturally have when trying to help.
- About the only words to offer – “I enjoy watching you play” and “Remember, I’m your biggest fan.”
- Tell your child it is natural parent behavior to want to help but that you will try to get better at offering continual advice. They will at least respect you for that and understand more of what being a parent is about.
This tension-causing situation is most difficult when a parent is the child’s team coach. In that position, parents must treat their own as if they are just another team member and let the other coaches give most of the playing assistance to their son or daughter.
Finally, maybe I should not have offered tips for parents to help this situation, as this type child behavior is what has kept me in business all these years – kids not willing to listen to mom or dad.