Friday, July 17, 2015

PBS Daniel Pink Article, "Why You Should Always Skip Your Kids' Baseball Games"

I recently discovered a very interesting article, "Why You Should Always Skip Your Kids' Baseball Games" (June 30, 2015) by PBS author, Daniel Pink, about youth sports in America, and the role of the ever-controversial parent.  I find this discussion highly fascinating, and I wanted to share (1) the original PBS article, (2) an interesting response from reader/coach, "Mike D", and finally, (3) my own perspective below...Essentially, I think that both Daniel Pink and "Mike D" make very interesting and valid points, and ultimately, we can learn from both perspectives.  What do YOU think about this topic? 

There are various angles to discuss: how a parent's involvement (or lack thereof) impacts their relationship with their child, various motivating factors to enhance or detract from their learning, performance, and enjoyment of sports, etc.  Ultimately, I do not think there is a right or wrong answer, or a one-size-fits-all solution.  Every child is unique in their abilities, learning styles, and motivational factors, therefore as a parent, I can only hope to proceed according to my children's preferences.  On the whole, I suspect the vast majority of children would prefer that their parents attend their games.  I suspect that I was a unique case as a child, who didn't always feel this way, but it is interesting to explore the implications of both scenarios. 


By Daniel Pink

America has a problem with youth sports. And this problem has a name, two names, actually, mom and dad.

But the real issue isn’t what you might think. Now, we already know that some sports parents are completely nuts, like mothers who sue the league when their precious progeny don’t get enough playing time, or hyper-competitive fathers who got cut from their high school team and are now taking revenge by threatening volunteer referees or barking at preteen girls.

No, the deeper concern might be with all the other parents, the good ones, the nice ones, parents like me, who come to games and cheer for the players and shout “It’s OK” when our sons and daughters strike out. We’re part of the problem, too. And it’s time for us to get out of the way.

For the sake of our children, let’s ban parents, all parents, not just the wackos, from attending most of their kids’ games. Let’s step off the sideline and climb down from the bleachers and make youth sports a parent-free zone.

Now, hear me out on this. In many places, attending your kids’ sporting events has somehow become a leading indicator of parental awesomeness. Can’t stay late today. Got to go to Maria’s soccer match. I haven’t missed one of Billy’s basketball games for three years.

Good for you. But is it really good for your kids? If we feel like we’re investing our time and attention, don’t we then expect some kind of return, from a 10-year-old, who is hitting a ball with a stick?

What few of us well-meaning parents realize, but that any professional athlete will tell you, is that when kids look to us on the sidelines for approval or consolation or even orange slices, part of them is distracted from what really counts, the mastery of something difficult, the obligations to teammates, the game itself.

Sitting there in our folding chairs can prevent children from standing on their own two feet. If they succeed on the field, they, not us, deserve the joy. If they fail — and they will a lot — they, not us, have to figure out how to respond.

Maybe that’s why research has shown organized sports inhibit kids’ creativity, but pickup games actually enhance it. Besides, at their heart, sports are about stories. If we’re not in the stands, the kid’s on the story. They get to tell us what went well and what didn’t, instead of us telling them from the front seat on the car ride home.

Think about it. Compared to other parts of our children’s lives, sports are bizarrely parent-centric. We don’t gather in the back of algebra class and watch students solve quadratic equations. In music and dance and theater, we don’t attend every single practice, lesson and rehearsal. We just show up for an occasional performance, keep our mouths shut and applaud like crazy when it’s over.

So, here’s a better idea, especially for the legions of paunchy, stressed-out, middle-aged souls out there. Let’s banish parents from youth fields, courts, and diamonds, and let’s arrange for moms and dads to play soccer, softball, basketball, whatever, themselves when their children have a game.

Our kids would get more freedom, we parents would get more exercise, and all of us would remember why we love sports.

- Daniel Pink, PBS


This really is a terrible idea and has no basis in reality. As a soccer coach at the youth competitive club and high school level for 20 years, I know that the support and attendance of the parents/siblings both at practice and games is invaluable for several reasons.

FIRST, of 
the approximately one thousand kids I've coached, I can not think of one who wasn't happy to have their parents there, win or lose. It actually creates balance between the euphoria of winning and the dismay of a loss. A coach can not do this.

SECOND, the parents have the unique situational power/ability to help establish the coach's authority. I have seen poor teams turn to good ones and good ones to great because the parents have stuck with the program and encouraged their children to do the same. I could not accomplish this alone, as a coach. 99% of all parents I've experienced fall into this category. Many
children need motivation and all parents are powerful motivators inherently.

THIRD, experiencing from the parents the adulation that follows a great play and the encouragement that follows a poor one 
is something that frees me, as a coach, to be the voice of discipline, disappointment or vociferous encouragement. Simply put, to be a teacher and a coach.

playing in front of spectators helps to actually focus and refine the mental skills needed to succeed. Ask any professional athlete about the influence of a crowd. If our children are inexperienced in this facet of the psychology of sports, then it is to their detriment, especially at the high school level and above. If the parents don't attend, then it's like playing in an empty stadium.

FIFTH, coaching does not create greatness. Desire, effort, talent and support create greatness. If you want to have a team of unmotivated and average athletes, then remove the parents from the sideline. There is a reason that professional athletes break into tears when mentioning their mothers and fathers. The support and love of these parents have fostered greatness in their children from an early age. Ask a professional athlete who the single-most important person who contributed to their success is, and you will get almost 100% affirmation of a parent, mom or dad. But, you already know this. Mr. Pink states that we don't huddle in the back of math class, so why should we huddle on the sidelines? This is a fallacy. The most brilliant scientists, doctors and engineers of today have mothers and fathers that have supported their children's interest in science and math. The most amazing artists and musicians of today have had parents who have supported their children's interest in painting, drawing, composing and playing. While standing in the back of a classroom is idiotic, going to a science fair, attending a musical recital or art showing is not.

Does Mr. Pink not understand the power of hanging up a piece of your child's art on the refrigerator? Sports is very creative and artistic in its own way. Since we can't hang up Junior's home run, game-saving tackle or last-minute goal on the refrigerator, how about we just show up and applaud, win or lose. Do you
really want to be the parent that isn't present to lock eyes with your kid after he hits the game-winning triple or gives up the last minute goal to lose? No coach in the world can replace that moment for your child, and he or she is not going to be able to bring that home to you so you can hang it on the refrigerator.
Be there, be present, be loving, be supportive, be happy, be blessed with having an able-bodied able-minded child. Whether you're playing catch before the sun sets, solving quadratic equations by lamplight, listening to Bach after dinner, or perusing the works of Monet on the Internet, we should take an active and present interest in our children's activities. They will thank us now, they will thank us later and they will remember us after we are gone. I believe in the power and role of the parent so much, that I will not be coaching my kids in any of their respective competitive sports or endeavors. I will be planted firmly on the sideline at both practice and competition, being exactly where a parent should be. Present.


While I fully agree with your thoughtful and insightful comments above, I can somewhat relate to the original writer of this piece. My parents were very devoted, supportive, and encouraging with regard to sports growing up.  Looking back, I am forever grateful,  and I cannot fathom how they logistically supported us in as many activities as they did. From an early age through high school, we (three children) competed in various combos of speed skating, swimming, diving, soccer, field hockey, baseball, basketball, track, and cross country....(not to mention, they enrolled us in piano, dance, scouts, art lessons, etc.)  My sister went on to compete in Div I swimming and diving on a diving scholarship.  They were always very supportive, yet were somewhat 'hands-off' so to speak, as they did NOT attend every meet or game.  My father’s parents were immigrants from Germany, and although he was a talented athlete, playing Division I soccer and running track in college, it was not custom to attend every game.  He simply followed suit with us. Yet, not once did I ever question his level or support or encouragement of my sport, as we always discussed lessons learned and favorite moments from our practices and games.  

Through our best or worst games, they were quiet supporters and never criticized our performance.  They were never pressure-cooker or obsessive about winning…. Yet still, I  preferred they NOT attend every game since I felt added pressure by their presence. Of course, I would not have been happy for them to skip every game as the writer suggests (though I think he was really just exaggerating to make a point).... Looking back, I now realize their occasional absence actually enhanced my ability to develop internal motivation.  I believe this is what the author is getting at.  As Pink states, "when kids look to us on the sidelines for approval or consolation or even orange slices, part of them is distracted from what really counts, the mastery of something difficult, the obligations to teammates, the game itself."

I would hope that any coach, parent, or teacher fully understands and appreciates the value of internal vs. external rewards.  If a child performs well and the parent is at the game, they share their pride (great for the parent/child relationship) yet also split their pride (not great for development of internal motivation) with their parents.  Naturally, they are rewarded internally, but they are also rewarded by their parent’s positive praise.  We all know that internal motivation alone is the most powerful motivator for long term development, NOT the prize at the end, whether in the form of a ribbon, trophy or a parent's praise.  When I played sports, I was motivated to improve for the sake of improvement, performance, for the ‘love of the game’; so to speak…My parent’s response was never a part of my ‘performance equation’, because frankly, they weren’t always there.  As Pink states, "If they succeed on the field, they, not us, deserve the joy. If they fail — and they will a lot — they, not us, have to figure out how to respond."

This internal v external reward dynamic is explored in various parenting books including Price of Privilege, Nurture Shock, Mindset, etc.  Particularly, if the parent expresses an emotionally-charged positive response to their good performance, it sends a message that they can only please the parent if they perform well.  Ultimately, there is potential to feel that their parent’s love and support is a function of their performance.  One may call this psycho-babble bulls#$%, but it is a heavily studied phenomenon. I think this is more of what the author is getting at.  

No well-intentioned supportive parent would ever mean to convey this message from their sideline cheering, but experts warn that an overly emotional response can in fact send this message. I have discovered at my own children's games and meets that this is SUCH a tricky balance....To be supportive, but emotionally neutral, particularly when we have so many great memories of our own athletic experiences, and we simply want our children to enjoy theirs as well.  

When I read the comments under the article, I find it discouraging that most people misunderstood the meat of this article, altogether.  I doubt he was advocating parents to literally SKIP every game.  This is totally unrealistic.  Rather, he was making the point of the psychological effects (the persuit of improved performance for the sake of the game instead of parental praise) of taking the parents out of the equation.  

I think it is important to recognize that children learn and motivate in different ways, so who is to say what is BEST when it comes to supporting your child?  When it comes to sewing the seeds of a close relationship, most likely it is best to show up.  When it comes to sewing the seeds of their internal, authentic, most powerful motivation, perhaps it is best to back off sometimes.  Some kids may prefer you attend every game while others may NOT. This may also shift over time. Clearly, it is important to listen to our children and find out what makes them tick.  Looking back, I now recognize and value the benefits I received by having parents who didn't always attend.  And, I would not change a thing.

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