Mirror Reflections

I really felt it was high time to write this piece. Maybe it’s because, as coaches we might sometimes find it a bit personal or difficult to tell a parent. I mean it would be pretty forward, but sometimes honest to say: “The reason why your child doesn’t react well to defeat or stress, is because you as a parent aren’t being a good enough example to them”. – Harsh? maybe, true sometimes – Yes.

So often I will consult parents who will tell me all the things their kid CAN’T do or what they do wrong in their sport. Right there starts the problem. For example, their kid gets frustrated and negative every time they feel pressure or begin to lose. They seem to think it’s all on their kid and feel the kid is the solo culprit.

Well, let me ask you this: how were you when you were young, how did you react to mistakes, failure or things that maybe didn’t go your way? Were you the perfect example?
Did you ever double fault or miss a pass, kick or catch under pressure?
Let’s Start right there.

In consulting well over 1000 parents in my 20+ years in coaching, I would say that more than 80% of the parents are actually the root cause to start with. Often they will tell me “Allistair, you need to speak to my kid!” When in fact I should rather be sitting down with the parent themselves.

Now, before we go any further, this is by no means an attack on the parent (believe me, I’ve had the hate mail!), but rather something that I’ve discovered and the main reason I’m writing this piece, is to help. While I’m on it, I’ll admit that us coaches are totally guilty here at times too.

Kids are a mirror of their parents, quite simply because they spend the most time around them. Kids reflect what they see, for better or worse, and for the first decade or so of their lives, what they see most are their parents. You see, it’s our words and actions they emulate as they make their first tentative contact with the world. Let’s face it, at first, it’s nice and cute when your kid displays your facial expressions or generally starts behaving like a mini-you. It stops being cute when the kid begins evidencing some of your less-than-flattering behavior, for the world to see.

Just small things that happen in everyday situations, such as the way you react to dropping the milk in the kitchen, to someone pulling out in front of you in the car – the way you react to these situations have a bigger impact than you think.

Dad’s, here’s one for you: The way you react whilst watching your favorite team getting a beat down on the TV!

Or let me ask you this: How is your mood in the car on the way home after a game? Are you heading off to McDonald’s after a win and racing straight home in silence and misery after a loss?

Even your complaining if something didn’t go your way or gossiping in front of your child, these little things make them feel that it’s alright to do as well. Complaining about line calls or unfair decisions comes down to the same thing – the way you as a parent handle lives unfair giving’s and situations.

Talking in front of your child about what they can’t do. What are you doing here in the bigger picture? – Simply breaking them down and making the mountain even bigger. I completely understand you only want the best for your child, but by constantly reminding them of their limiting factors doesn’t help in the long run.

If you aren’t having a ratio of at least 4:1 positives to negatives, you are raising a negative and fixed mindset. Even better, parents who love to remind their kid about their ‘choking’ moments for example: “Every time Johnny feels pressure he begins to crumble”. Well, think about this: maybe ‘everytime’ little johnny gets in a close match he’s thinking “Here I go again, I wonder what mom or dad are thinking!” They have developed a fear mindset. I mean, holy smokes, no wonder they choke every time!

Especially living in Florida, the sports state of USA, I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my times. But the best are those parents who can’t control their frustrations and anger, but then expect their kids to act like role models on the court or field!

Remember, that as adults, be it as a coach or a parent we are here to help, not hurt or hinder a kid’s progress. Understand that there is so much power in your words, facial expressions and constant reminders. The truth is, no kid wants to fail, neither does a kid want to let you down as a parent. As hard as it may be, we need to first take a look at our own self. How do we handle stress, challenges, failures, the unexpected? – are we the perfect example?

Here’s another commonality and interesting thing I’ve discovered, and that is the well-liked kids I’ve worked with have a lot do with their parents personality and parenting style. For one thing popularity runs in the family. It goes in hand-in-hand, Parents who are well-liked among their peers tend to have popular children. Parents who adopt a growth mindset approach and are fair, supportive, and who teach their children to follow the rules of social etiquette are likely to raise well-adjusted kids who relate well to both adults and peers.

You see, when it comes to sports, to me a great parent isn’t judged on how well their kid plays a sport, but rather on how well their kid can follow instructions, be respectful, listen and have a great attitude.

By contrast, permissive parents who set few standards and have little control over their children tend to raise children who are disrespectful, aggressive and if good at something, feel a sense of entitlement.

Adults, let’s stop and sometimes take a good self-reflection. Let’s take a look at ourselves and see how we react and handle stress and pressure. A child will see your example more than hear your words. Lets rather see how we can help our kids, lets remind them of what they CAN DO, and not keep reminding of what they can’t do. In fact, I’ve seen it happen many times with an athlete, that the problem disappears once the attention has been taken off it! – I especially love using this approach.

Remember that children are mirrors, walking reflections of the real, unadulterated you, and what they display to the world isn’t always pleasant. The way your child interacts with the world is a reflection of your values, standards and example.

You, the parent are the most important part of this puzzle. We as coaches value and respect all you do. it’s one tough job! But a big part of helping your child succeed comes from your example, your words, reactions to defeats or failures, and challenges.

I agree, not always easy, but something to stop and consider.

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Mirror Reflections — 3 Comments

    Love the article and I’m very happy to see you are using the word we and not I.
    Yes, I believe we are all in the same boat as coaches, and yes we need to educate the parents more and more.
    The kids are very easy to work with most of the time. thank you for sharing.Keep well

  2. That is such a good insight, but I guess not many parents who have kids in this category are about to be told they need to change! All I know is that when my son plays anyone with a parent like this, it gives my son a big boost because we know they’re going to crumble after they loose a few points, where in realality they could still win if they focuses on the game as a whole and not one mistake.

  3. This is very well written! As a coach and a parent, I have experienced everything that you talked about with my students. I have even asked parents to leave the area or sit in the car. I feel very sad for these players. Thank you for sharing.