It’s Spring. The Yankees and the Mets have played their home openers and the baseball season is underway for kids and parents in Bergen County and throughout the entire country.
My son likes baseball. And while he is not the next Mickey Mantle, he does a few things quite well. He switch hits and has won three town championships.In addition, he was the winning pitcher in an extra inning final game a few years ago. This was a nice thrill for him, for his family, for his coaches and for his teammates. Zack is twelve now and he had his first practice game last Saturday. His coach is a super guy who coached one of Zack’s championship teams. This is my sixth season as an assistant coach. Since part of my practice involves counseling athletes, coaches and their families, I always feel like I learn a few things while observing the dynamics and interpersonal interactions on the baseball diamond. Sometimes, I even learn lessons that are useful for myself and for my own children.
Not surprisingly, lots of the boys are eager to perform well and to please their coaches, teammates, adversaries and their parents in their first game. . Some of the kids, including my own child, are always glancing over at me and my wife to see if we are approving of their actions in the field. Some of the parents scream out words of encouragement and instruction. Others appear to be a bit too critical.
My son went three four at the plate after a bad first at bat, in which he looked very uncomfortable and quite out of sorts. He made a couple of errors at third base and failed to make an important throw when he needed to do so. He managed to pitch a scoreless inning thanks to a good play on a pop up to the mound and a great play by the infielders. However, he was pretty wild and had some difficulty getting the ball over the plate. I could see that he was frustrated and that he was getting down on himself.
Throughout the game, he kept looking over to me to see my reactions to his performance on the field. I have coached hundreds of athletes in my practice and I understand the importance of remaining positive when teaching a young person.
I could see that my son was a bit disappointed at the end of the game. While we were in the car, I thought it was very important to share some supportive words with him. I said, “Son, you need to know that I will love you very much if you play poorly or if you play well. So, you don’t have to worry about my reactions to what happens out there. It is also important for you to feel okay about yourself whether you do well or have a rough time out there.”
He smiled and thanked me and I gave him a big hug when he got out of the car. I think he felt like a tremendous burden had been lifted from his little body. I think this might be some useful advice for some of the baseball dads and soccer moms who attend their kids’ games. Making sure your child feels loved and supported is almost always a sensible idea.
Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist in River Edge, NJ and Founder of www.StayInTheZone.com