OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Does Your Child Ask This Question?
“Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win?”
By Doug Abrams
I appreciate non-fiction books whose titles or subtitles provoke thought, even before I open the pages and begin reading. Once the cover piques interest, reading the book itself is like icing on the cake.
One such book is “Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win?: A Guide for Parents of Young Athletes,” written by Christopher Andersonn (with Barbara Andersonn). To be quite candid, I have not read it but the eye-catching title stimulates me to write this column.
The title underscores advice that the American Academy of Pediatrics gives parents and coaches who want their children to thrive in sports: “Adults must clearly show that the child’s worth is unrelated to the outcome of the game.” “Good effort should be praised,” the Academy explains, and “[u]nconditional approval should be given for participating and having fun.”
Reward Performance, Not Outcome
“Unrelated to the outcome of the game” . . . “praise” . . . “unconditional approval” . . . . The point is that parents and coaches should reward children for the quality of their performance (which the players can control), and not for the outcome of the game (which individual players usually cannot control). This distinction between “performance goals” and “outcome goals,” drawn helpfully by the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Jim Thompson, remains central for parents who understand children’s reactions to praise they have earned.
What should a young player think when her parents take her out for ice cream after the team wins, but not after the team loses? Or after the player gets the big hit or scores the big touchdown, but not after he strikes out or fumbles the ball?
And what should a young player think when the coaches lavish praise after wins or big plays, but remain non-communicative and even verbally hostile after losses or missed plays?
Children are sensitive to the verbal and non-verbal cues that the adults in their lives deliver wittingly or unwittingly. When parents or coaches convey the subtle message that they appreciate the player more in good times than in bad, the player will get the message — even if the parents or coaches did not mean to convey it. The lesson for adults is that they need to be careful with players who take their sport seriously, crave adult approval, and remain perceptive about what their parents and coaches do and say.
Facts of Athletic Life
Once players have given their best effort, parents and coaches send the right message when they treat victory and defeat alike. Teams should try to win every game because striving to win within the rules is the essence of competitive sports. I suspect, though, that parents and coaches sometimes let down their guard because they mistakenly compare defeat to failure.
The comparison is misplaced. Every day of every season, half of all youth leaguers competing in America lose. Each one returns to play another day. All athletes taste defeat because nobody plays on undefeated teams every year, and nobody goes from season to season winning every meet or match in individual sports. Striving to win, yet rebounding from defeat, is central to youth sports because it is central to preparation for adulthood. Parents and coaches are the role models who must show the way.
Time for Ice Cream
So much for the old adage that “you can’t tell a book by its cover.” Sometimes a book’s title says plenty even before you open to the table of contents or page one. Come to think of it, the Andersonns’ title is so intriguing that I think I will get the book and read it. Call this column an anticipatory book review.
Now, take the kids out for ice cream and urge them to focus on winning the next game, no matter what just happened on the field.
[Source: Am. Acad. of Pediatrics, Organized Athletics for Preadolescent Children, Pediatrics, vol. 84, p. 583]