The boy playing center field was moving around in a kind of tribal dance. He was kicking the grass and waving his arms. He leaned over to pick either a flower or a bug from the ground. It was a beautiful spring day and his team was losing 12-0 in a Little League thriller.
When the inning was mercifully over, it was his team's turn to bat. The center fielder put on his helmet and lined up for his turn at home plate. Once again, he did his little dance. He waved to his parents in the stands. His dad yelled encouraging words.
When it was his turn to bat, the center fielder swung with all his might at the first two balls but hit neither of them. He looked over at his dad. The dad called out, "You'll hit the next one!" And, to his own surprise, the young player hit the third pitch. The ball popped up to the pitcher and the center fielder was out at first base.
Was he unhappy? No. He had a big smile on his face as he returned to the dugout. He had hit the ball! His mom and dad clapped and whistled for him.
At the end of the game, the parents of the center fielder waited for him while he gathered his equipment. Then his dad gave him a big hug and asked him if he had fun. The little guy said, "It was fun, but we didn't win and I didn't score."
The dad put his hand on the boy's head, patted it and said, "Winning isn't everything. You are still learning and sometimes having fun is more important."
There was another family at the game. I noticed that the father wore a frown and yelled a lot. His son was the pitcher of the losing team. Every time the boy made a bad pitch, the father would groan and yell, 'Come on, you can do better than that."
The pitcher did not have a good game. His team lost 14-0. When the game was over, the pitcher's dad ran out to the mound and started screaming at him. The mom quickly packed up her things, left the field and sat in their car.
I watched the dad yell at his son all the way to the car. I can only imagine what happened when they got home. Nothing positive, I'm sure.
Why is it that some dads can support their athlete offspring with words of encouragement, while others use only criticism? I have a theory about that.
When an adult male has played sports in his younger years, he wants his children to play sports, too. That's fine. If a child really wants to play sports and enjoys the competition, everyone's happy.
But, sometimes the dad forgets that his child needs to go through a learning curve. He isn't going to be a star on the field right away. An 'old jock' can't stand the idea of his child looking less than perfect as an athlete. And, he thinks that the best way to motivate his child is to yell and scream and demand better performance.
Some former jocks are reading this and pooh-poohing my thoughts, "Dr. Smith doesn't know what she's talking about. Fathers have to yell at their kids to get them to play better. Everybody knows that."
I agree that most parents want their child to do his/her best. But, there are varying ways to get the best out of someone. If an adult works for a boss who yells at him and embarrasses him in front of his co-workers to get him to work harder, how would he feel? Do you think his work would improve under those conditions?
Most children desperately want to please their parents. But, if the kid lives with constant criticism and yelling, his self-confidence gets lower and lower. He'll begin to think that he can't please his parent and he will give up trying.
When a child plays a sport or participates in any other activity, the family should be the child's loudest cheering section. Parents need to save any constructive suggestions for the privacy of the home. And, these suggestions should be given gently. Teaching your child to do his best needs to be based on lots of positive feedback.
The next time you attend a child's sporting event, listen to the parents. You can usually spot the former jock who can't stand to have his kid be less than perfect. He (or she) is the one whose intolerant, demanding, embarrassing behavior gives him away every time.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: JSMITH1313@CFL.RR.COM  OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.