Kids karate parents, like all sports parents, usually have a lot on their mind following classes (or tournaments, or gradings), and they’re understandably anxious to dissect all the action with their young karate-ka.
We see the fallout from time to time with kids in tears from not receiving skill stripes – not when it happens, but when they have to explain it to their parents.
For this, and other reasons, it’s usually best to refrain from unloading everything the moment the car door shuts for the trip home.
“I think what has happened is the car ride home has ruined more relationships between parents and their kids because the lines get so blurred,” says Dr. Rob Bell, a sport psychology coach.
“The kids are riding home with their parents – they’re in a metal coffin – and they can’t escape and they can’t breathe and the only thing they hear from their parents is they are just getting grilled about why did they make that play, or what were they thinking or they should have done this. The conversations rarely go well and it really just hurts the kid’s confidence and the way they evaluate everything.”
So, instead of scrutinizing miscues from behind the steering wheel, or serving up analysis before they’ve even pulled out of the parking lot, parents should consider taking a more laid back approach. This helps ensure that their words will land on more receptive ears and increase the likelihood of a more productive exchange.
“The best time to talk about the game or the practice nowadays is not on the car ride home,” says Bell, author of Don’t “Should” On Your Kids. “Talk about anything but the game. And the parents have to communicate that part to their kids that they’ll talk at home at a designated time when everybody is cool, calm and collected. That’s when the conversations are a lot more beneficial.”
Bell has worked with everyone from athletes at Notre Dame to national tennis champions and this latest book, written with youth performance training expert Bill Parisi, helps parents empower their kids to build their mental toughness. It also tackles a number of other topics relevant to parenting young athletes, such as confidence building, dealing with injuries, communication strategies and the ultra-challenging issue of handling failure and disappointment.
“Failure is a bruise, it’s not a tattoo,” Bell says. “That feeling dissipates, but it’s what we learn from it. Sports should be that laboratory, that training ground, of when we do experience setbacks and we do experience adversity that’s when we learn how do we respond to that? How do we cope with it? Do we blame others or do we accept responsibility? Effort is everything and I think if we really emphasize all the awesome skills that sports can provide like communication and teamwork and leadership and just that mental toughness, that’s where I think we get better.”
WHO’S DOING THE DRIVING?
Bell has seen far too many young athletes fizzle out, due to all the pushing, prodding and pressure from their parents.
He says kids need space to enjoy the process and if they truly love the sport they’ll develop a passion for it, as well as their own mental toughness.
“It’s hard to be driven when you’re being driven and I see it all the time,” he says. “The kiss of death is kids are good at their sport but they don’t love it. But now they are trapped – they are going to go into high school or already at the club level and they’re playing really well but they don’t love it, so it’s a recipe for disaster because it’s going to explode at some point. They’re just kind of hanging on. It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of expectation and if it’s driven by the parents it just won’t work.”
WHAT MESSAGE IS YOUR BODY LANGUAGE SENDING?
“As parents we need to ride the carousel, not the roller coaster,” Bell says. “Kids can see when a parent is stressed out. You show me a parent in the stands or on the field that’s going to be stressed out pacing, throwing their arms up and down, really just riding that emotional roller coaster and I’m going to show you a kid that is stressed out.”
So it’s important parents have a plan – and stick to it – especially when games and performances don’t go as they had hoped.
“Parents need to really be strategic and have a plan on what they do during a game and how they parent and what’s their body language,” Bell says. “Kids are always looking for approval from their parents and it’s easy when people are winning and it’s just really difficult when people start to struggle.”
SO WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
If you really want your child to love coming to class, feel good about themselves and have a good chance to go as far as possible, then one of your most important jobs besides loving them unconditionally is to NOT coach. And as we know, the one place where the most “coaching” happens is on the car ride home right after a competition.
It’s on the car ride home that kids are a captive audience; It’s on the car ride home that everyone’s emotions are running high; And it’s on the car ride home that parents can’t seem to contain themselves. They feel compelled to speak up, to be “helpful,” to seize this “teaching moment,” whether their child asks for it or not.
It’s on the car ride home that kids end up feeling really badly about themselves. If they had a bad performance, not only are they already sad, frustrated and disappointed in themselves, they feel like they’ve let you down, which for most kids is a killer!
When mum and dad express their own disappointment in the child’s failure, when they point out everything that the child did wrong, why they did it wrong and what they need to work on to improve, then your child will feel that MUCH WORSE.
On the car ride home is the time when your child needs to completely unplug, to leave the class or match, or grading) behind them, to forget their mistakes and miscues and to work through their own sadness, frustration and disappointment. The VERY LAST THING that most kids want to do on the ride home is rehash all of this with you.
What most kids need on the car ride home is to feel the safety of your love, a love that has NOTHING to do with their performance.
What they might also need is your help in getting distracted from the session. They need to know that you are still there emotionally for them and they can exquisitely tell this by how you act, and not just by what you say. They need to know, by your behaviours, that this was JUST A GAME, that there will be plenty of others and it is, in the long run, totally unimportant.
However, this does not mean that you actually say this to your child. Instead they need to feel that you have it in perspective. They need to feel your empathy and loving support. And sometimes all this amounts to is a smile and something really profound that you say to them like, “I really loved your enthusiasm in class tonight”.
All of our kids have different personalities, abilities, disabilities, needs, wants, likes and dislikes, and goals……. don’t forget the goals. They might want something completely different to what you want.
At the dojo we work on shaping the kids strengths and weaknesses over time with a wholistic approach. Our goal is to help them become the best version of themselves that they can be – physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. We love to do that as part of a team.