The mother of Indiana University forward Troy William vented in a Facebook post yesterday. She wrote, “I just heard Crean said he is not starting Troy because he said Troy didn’t play well yesterday!! Okay it’s time for Troy to get the F**K OUT OF IU!!” I inserted the asterisks, not Mrs. Williams.
There are way for parents to help kids, and ways for them to complicate their lives. Mrs. Williams, who later took down the post and apologized on Twitter.
To the extent Troy takes her rantings on social media seriously, she made him uncomfortable by running to his defense as Crean exerted the one consequence that might get his attention after playing indifferently against Wake Forest in an embarrassing loss.
Crean is trying to teach Williams that sacrifice for the good of the team is essential for their success. That is a lesson that may make Williams a much more productive adult and successful employee. A rational parent would thank Crean for benching her son. Criticizing him is the height of self-indulgent parenting and fan-mom behavior.
I’ve seen good parenting and bad parenting in sports, and there are kids who are permanently damaged by the bad.
If you are a sports parent, here is a list of positive behaviors and tips to overcome negative impulses that can help a kid use sports as a lever toward maturity and growth:
1 – Allow your kid to negotiate adversity on his or her own. Sports are a wonderful microcosm of life, and youth sports present challenges similar to those in business. If a kid isn’t playing as much as you or he believe is warranted, that’s the kid’s challenge to overcome. Never ask a coach about playing time. The kid can ask, but then should do exactly as the coach advises to earn more opportunities.
2 – Stay off social media. Not only should you never create content related to your child’s exploits, you should stop consuming it too. It’s obvious – even to a woman is bizarrely active on social media as Mrs. Williams – that her rants can cause her son headaches both inside the locker room and on campus. For many, reading positive tweets provide validation regarding their kids. Sadly, there will always be criticisms too, and whether or not they are fair, they sting. Don’t put yourself through that emotional meat-grinder. You know what kind of person your kid is – don’t try to verify your love and admiration through social media or message boards.
3 – Keep yourself busy during games. My trick was to keep stats or videotape games. That kept me from riding officials, yelling at coaches, or muttering about other players. Events where our kids display their talents in public put us on an emotional edge, and many (like me) need to do something else to occupy our minds.
4 – Stay away from other parents. Not everyone is as well behaved as you are, so watching in solitude is a nice way to not have to listen to others grouse about dropped passes, missed shots, and weak swings at a sliders low and away. Very few parents mean any harm, but many are passionate advocates for their own kids at the expense of others. That’s life, but it doesn’t need to ruin your experience. Sitting out of earshot is a nice route to a pleasant time watching your kid. This is also an empathetic strategy if you can’t keep your own mouth shut.
5 – Take a global view. Results of athletic pursuits are mostly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Only a statistically insignificant number of people ever play professionally. The importance of sports for kids is in the lessons available to them and the friendships created through shared sacrifice toward a common goal. A scholarship is a nice reward, and championship rings are nice, but it’s the non-tangible stuff that lasts. Understand that the quality of our lives has a great deal more to do with how we answer adversity than whether we achieve momentary and fleeting successes. When a kid like Troy Williams gets benched, the right thing is to encourage an indomitability that drives a kid to overcome and triumph – not cut and run.
6 – Remember to love first. We all want for our kids what they want for themselves, but it is up to them to figure out how to get it. Being ambitious on behalf of your kids is a ticket to problems no kid deserves. Parents can provide resources for kids, but not much else. If a fire doesn’t burning as brightly in your kid as you might like, no amount of motivational fuel you provide will get them there.
Being a good sports parent is difficult. Being a fan of your son or daughter is only natural, but leads to a mess your kids do not deserve as a result of their hard work and talent.