Monday, December 29, 2014

Kids need our support on the sidelines

From Saturday's Briefing:

During the most stressful moments of my most stressful jobs, no one in charge has yelled at me. In the middle of grown-up chaos, no one has hollered directions or detailed what I was doing wrong or demanded that I do something differently.
In 1990, when the scanners stopped working at Target on the Saturday before Christmas and all the cashiers had to type UPC codes from every single item while customer lines snaked through the store, no supervisor barked at us to type faster.
Over the many years that I designed news pages or edited ever-changing stories on tight deadlines, no one sat nearby, screaming at me to move a photo or revise a paragraph or write a headline.
These days, when I’m working one-on-one with a student who struggles to decipher a multisyllabic word or discern an author’s purpose in a given text, no one heckles or jeers from a corner of the classroom.
Yet at almost every youth sporting event I attend — games that, let’s face it, have very little long-term impact — parents are hollering at their kids (and sometimes even other people’s children).
You’ve heard the words: Move! Run! Get him! Stop her! Move faster! Run faster! Play smarter!
Why are we yelling at our kids? What do we expect to accomplish? How are we helping when we criticize loudly from the sidelines?
Cooper’s indoor soccer team lost last Sunday. The winning team’s goalkeeper worked hard, letting only one shot through. That was one too many for the young man’s dad.
Dad stood up and waved with exasperation. “Use your arms!” he bellowed in a huff — a dramatic plea that in no way could be mistaken for support or comfort.
It’s the same tone I hear from a few parents at every cross-country meet — angry messages of speeding up, of refusing to slow down, of beating the guy two paces ahead.
There’s a fine line between supporting and yelling. When Cooper sprints by during a meet, I’m deliberate in choosing my tone for “Go, Coop!” I’m hoping for joyful and encouraging, not disparaging and grumpy. I make an effort to smile, just in case he glances in my direction.
I’m hoping he knows I’m ready to cheer for him no matter his pace or his finish.
And all the while, I’m reminding myself that his performance — no matter how stellar or lackluster — is not a reflection of me.
His speed on the course is a reflection of how he performs in that moment, of how often he has trained, of how hard he’s pushed his body, of how well he’s hydrated during a full day of school, of his ability to recover should he slip and fall, of whether he gets elbowed by another runner, and of his reaction to the day’s weather conditions.
His placement at the finish line is his alone. The results of one race or game don’t define him, and they certainly don’t define me.
What does define him? His effort and attitude. His reaction to winning and his reaction to losing. How he treats teammates and competitors, coaches and referees. His progress and growth, even in tiny increments.
How will he make progress? By practicing. By making mistakes and accepting responsibility. By studying missteps and correcting them. By placing appropriate priority on a game.
A whole bunch of yelling and stomping and irritated, heavy sighing will only hold him back — and define me in all the wrong ways.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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