My fiancé coaches a ten year old baseball team.  Being a huge sports fanatic myself, I always enjoy going to the games to support my fiancé and the team.  However, I must admit that I secretly enjoy using this time to observe the parents.  Because I am so interested in parenting, and have so much respect for parents, I enjoy the opportunity to learn from others.

This past weekend, I found myself particularly interested in the parents’ reactions to a child’s unsuccessful attempts (for example, striking out or making an error).   Amongst the many different reactions, there were two extremes.  One parent did not hold the child responsible at all by stating things like, “I would have never swung at that terrible pitch either” or “I can’t believe the ump called you out.”  The other extreme was a parent who held the child solely responsible, and was often found yelling things like, “Swing the bat” or “Get your head in the game.”

Although there were many variations between these two extremes, I shared these extremes with my fiancé, and took the opportunity to discuss with him how we might handle this situation when we have children.  (With our competitive natures, it’s good for us to have a “stay cool, calm, and collective” plan before going into any sporting event, let alone that of our future child!)

After some discussion, we both decided that children need to be taught all aspects of playing a sport, including the physical, emotional, and mental aspects.  Every unsuccessful attempt provides an opportunity for parents to teach and children to learn.  The learning may come in many forms:  how to handle emotions, how to be a good sport, how to hit the baseball, etc.  We made it our goal that after each game, we would first and foremost teach our child about handling emotions and sportsmanship.  Our second priority would to teach the physical skills of playing the sport.

For example, if our child made an error in fielding, then sulked for two innings, our conversation might look something like this:

  • “It looked like you were upset after you missed that ground ball.  What was going through your head?”
    • This might lead to questions like, “What do you do when you’re angry with yourself?  How do you bounce back and get ready for the next play?”
    • We will then likely brainstorm some ways to handle tough, unsuccessful sporting attempts, like telling teammates, “I got all of the kinks worked out, and now I’m ready to get the next one!”

Obviously this approach will really vary depending on the age of the child.  I’m curious, how do you help your child handle strikeouts?  Errors?  Missed goal kicks?  Or any other unsuccessful sporting attempt?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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