The final out is recorded. Players line up and shake hands. You, as the coach, shake hands with the opposing team, then a pleasant handshake or two with the opposing coaches, offering up a few “good game” and “best of luck the rest of the season” compliments. As is customary, your players jog/walk/sprint out to left field for the post game pep talk and game analysis. You give your speech about great pitching performances and clutch hitting and good base running, and the other areas where the team could use some improvement. Players nod and look at each other and then huddle together for the team cheer. All hands in, “One, Two, Three, Go Team.” Players help clear out the dugout with their baseball gear, water bottles, gum wrappers, tape unraveled. You go around the dugout, like in your own home, and finish the job. You take one last look at the empty dugout and realize that the game is over. But, oh are you mistaken!!!
You are the coach. Your son or daughter is on your team. For the period of time that is a complete game, you are coaching your son or daughter with fairness and honesty and an unbiased approach. This means that despite the pep talk at the end of the game, despite the in game cheering and coaching remarks, you are now face to face in your car with a player who has your undivided attention. And guess what? Your son or daughter struck out 2 times in the game. He/she dropped a fly ball at second base. You got on your player/child for not hustling into the dugout from left field in the 3rd inning. And now, your player/child is frowning and upset and will be riding in your car all the way home to North Kingstown from Westerly (roughly a 40 minute ride). Cue the silence as you sit down in the driver’s seat, peer over at your player with his/her arms crossed, and start the car.
This begins, for those who choose positivity over negativity, the Car Ride Home Challenge. This challenge transforms you out of Coach Mode and into Parent Mode. Coach Mode is your game analysis, pep talk, X’s and O’s persona that will focus on the individual sports specific pluses and minuses of the game. Parent Mode is your desire to make your child feel comfortable with their participation in the game, encourage the positive aspects of the game, and be a good listener. Can you, in Parent Mode, turn that frown upside down by the time you pull into your driveway? This is not an easy challenge to complete and is not always successful. Here are a few steps in the challenge that have worked for me:
- Be a good interviewer. Ask your child how he/she felt about the game. Wins and losses are recorded in scorebooks and displayed on scoreboards for all to see. But a child may feel differently about the way the game went, despite the score. Ask them follow up questions until you get to the bottom of why they are upset.
- The field is in your rear view mirror and so should Coach Mode. Switching to Parent Mode allows you to feel compassionately for your child’s misery. Parent Mode will tell your child, through your words and actions, that you care and are listening. A child who has had a bad game, by their standards, doesn’t need to be reminded that they watched 2 good pitches sail right by them. A child who has had a bad game, by their standards, needs to be reminded that they did their best and managed to get a base hit in their third at bat. Which, by the way, drove in the tying run at the time.
- Let your child vent, but make sure the venting is productive and accusatory. Blaming the umpires, blaming the field conditions, blaming the wind, blaming the sun’s glare is not productive venting. Help steer your child through his/her venting to facts and reality and stay away from blaming others. In the end, your child needs to understand that errors happen and people strike out and games are lost. Losing is part of life. But, losing can be an opportunity to learn and get better at your sport. Blaming others when you lose is not going to learn you any lessons.
- Encourage your child to be resilient and passionate about improving their performance. Offer to throw a round of batting practice before your next game or take him/her to a batting cage. Offer to watch an MLB game with your son or daughter to show them how to properly field a tough ground ball. Reinforce the notion that your child is still going to bat 2nd, play 2nd base, and be an important part of your team no matter what just happened. Tell your child how much progress they have made in just a few years of playing. Ask them if they realize how much they have improved and point out games in years past.
Turning a frown upside down is almost as hard as beating Westerly. Players, especially young players often look at an “0 for 3” game as a letdown. They look at giving up 5 runs and walking 6 batters as a poor performance. They look at their game, despite the win or loss result, as a negative. It is our job as Coaches and Parents to encourage our children on and off the field. Coach Mode works great on the field. Parent Mode works better off the field and in the Car Ride Home Challenge.
What are some of your tips for overcoming the Car Ride Home Challenge?