Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem came to mind recently when I was watching a youth soccer game and the red mist descended on a few of the parents. For me, youth sports should be all about the kids and their right to focus on the game they are playing, as a key part of any child’s development is his ability to focus on a task. I’ve become convinced that it is a player’s ability to focus – not athletic ability (though that certainly helps) – that sets him apart from his peers at younger ages, allowing him to get placed on stronger teams earlier, thereby enhancing his development.
When they’re younger we all notice the kids who are picking flowers or doing cartwheels during the game – and this is perfectly normal. We hope and expect that as they grow their focus matures and their level of concentration improves. As with any part of a child’s development, we want to assist kids as they work on this trait. I think everyone would agree with this. My question, then, is why do parents (and some coaches) do everything in their power to interrupt this facet during games by screaming their heads off?
In my last post, I referenced a youth game where a coach and several parents completely lost the plot. Fortunately, the kids on the field were able to maintain their focus and play the game. I simply wondered…as a parent, you have to ask yourself – what are you doing there? Where is your focus? What is your real purpose as a spectator? Are you supporting and watching your child – or something else? A child’s focus is normally concentrated on the short-term (playing in the game). The focus of coaches and parents, however, needs to have a much longer frame of view. The single game, therefore, should not take on too much significance.
When watching your child play, your actions and comments indicate where your focus is. If you spend the game criticizing the referee, or yelling at the players or coaches, the message being sent is that you are placing an undue emphasis on a single game – and not on their long-term development. In addition, your actions affect the focus of your child.
We all want our children to grow and become responsible adults. Let them focus on the task at hand (whatever it is), and as they mature, they may be able to fulfill the words of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If”.