As a parent some of the things I yelled out onto the field at my daughter, all before the age of 14 is embarrassing. At times I let my emotions get the best of me. But, during the summer between her freshman & sophomore years, I changed. I used to look back with regrets. Today I look back and laugh. I have to laugh, because I can’t go back and change it.
This is the time of year when parents sit through team meetings with their travel softball clubs. They are often asked to sign parent contracts, which include rules about parental behavior through the season. And yet every year there are conflicts between coaches and parents, which in most cases really have little to do with the coaches. My goal is to present you with the last parent letter you'll ever need.
I knew what she was capable of and when she was underperforming. Occasionally, I let her know when she wasn’t her best (as if she didn’t already know this). “C’mon swing the bat like you can!” “Set your feet and throw the ball!” “You got to communicate out there! Talk! Call the ball!” Yelling out onto the field is for coaches, not parents. It took me awhile to understand that. Realizing my daughter could not be her best every moment on the field took time too. Are you the best you can be every moment of your day?
What they need from their parents is love, praise and a hug when things don’t go their way.
The Light Bulb Appeared
I had my epiphany when my daughter was just 13 years old, which I wrote about in an article that has been read nearly 100,000 times, “The Day I Quit Cheering for my Daughter.” Many things I write about come from the trials and tribulations of our 3-year emotional roller coaster ride during the college recruiting process. That “day” was just the beginning.
During the fall of her senior year in the midst of the college exposure tournament season, we were going on visits, talking to coaches and entertaining offers. It was exciting, but grueling. She missed about 10 days of school as well. Just before our final tournament in Orlando, Florida she made her decision and committed to Ball State. What she said to me afterwards deserves your attention.
She said, “Now I can just have fun playing softball again.” Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. Your daughter's softball playing days are going to end one day. Do you want them to end because the game isn’t fun anymore?
You see, these girls put enough pressure on themselves. They feel it from their peers and others too. Their coaches push them to be the best they can be, bench and probably yell at them at times. They worry about what college coaches are watching and what if they do bad. They don’t need pressure, lectures or instructions from their parents. What they need from their parents is love, praise and a hug when things don’t go their way.
You’re both human and are going to make mistakes.
Look in the Mirror Mom and Dad
You’re overweight. Your doctor puts you on blood pressure and cholesterol medication and tells you to lose weight or you risk heart disease, diabetes, stroke and a host of other health problems. You hear him loud and clear. You make big changes at home including cooking healthier meals, clearing the kitchen of junk food, exercising and researching how to live a healthier lifestyle. Everybody knows what you’re doing and why you’re doing it including your daughter.
Several days later you’re exhausted after a long and stressful work week. You come home later than usual with a couple of pizzas and a 2-liter of pop, because you’re starving and too tired to cook. You’re daughter comes home from the football game, sees you in the recliner stuffing your face and watching TV. She is furious and lets you have it.
“What is this? Why are you eating pizza and drinking pop? You know you’re not supposed to be eating this crap! You know how bad this is for you! Don’t you care about your health? Don’t you care about your family? Don’t you care about me?” She then storms into her bedroom, slams the door and you can hear her crying.
Neither of you intended on setting out to fail.
We All Need Love and Support
She loves softball and has big dreams to play in college some day. You want to get healthy, lose a few pounds and avoid living the rest of your life with any debilitating diseases. She makes errors on the field, takes a called 3rd strike and leaves the bases loaded. You cheat on your diet, skip a workout and gain a couple pounds. You’re both human and are going to make mistakes. It’s part of the game and part of life. Yelling at each other is not going to help either of you achieve your goals. Nor will it help either of you get back on your games.
What would help you get back on track with your diet? You could prepare healthy meals and snacks in advance to avoid the temptation of picking up fast food. You might exercise in the morning of a day in which you expect to work late. Would dwelling upon your failure to stick with it and the weight you gained do you any good today? Of course not.
What do you think will help your daughter play better in her next game? She might take some extra ground balls at practice or work on her footwork and throwing mechanics. She could work on her mental routine while she’s up to bat and learn to slow the game down with breathing exercises. Would thinking about her failures in the last game help her in her next game? Of course not.
Neither of you intended on setting out to fail. It just happened. All you can do is try to learn from the mistakes you made and prepare to do better next time. Your daughter can’t will you to lose weight and you can’t will her to be a star on the softball field. You may eat healthy and exercise all week, but fail to lose any weight. She may practice hard and take beautiful swings, but strikeout anyways. They say softball is a game of failure. Can the same be said for life?
There's one thing I will always remember about my parents: It’s how they made me feel.
The Way You Make Her Feel
I never actually stopped cheering for my daughter. I just changed the way I did it. I knew how badly she wanted to achieve her goal to play college softball. I learned that I had no control over her success or failure at any given moment in the games. I had done everything I could do to help her be the best she could be. My sole focus became how I could help relieve the pressure she was putting on herself, give her moral support and help her enjoy playing softball.
We are our daughter’s biggest fans. They’re the most important things in our lives and we want the world for them, which goes far beyond the softball fields. There weren’t any travel sports when I was growing up. I played recreational summer ball and four years in high school. After all these years when I look back to my playing days there’s one thing I will always remember about my parents: It’s how they made me feel. They made me feel good about myself. When your daughter looks back, how do you want her to recall about the way you made her feel?
Remember this: She was your daughter long before she became your softball prospect. And if some of what you've just read hits a little close to home, that's okay. All that matters now is what you do from this point forward. If I could do it, you can too. And while you're getting the hang of it, try to help those around you. One by one we can have a positive impact in the softball journeys for a lot of players and parents!