“You Gotta Want It” :: A Sports Parent’s Perspective

I was at a volleyball match the other night.  Not one where I coach, but one where my teenage daughter is playing. This match could be any one of many that I attend, sitting on the sidelines with years of experience both playing and coaching, just wanting to enjoy my daughter and her team.  Or maybe it could be at the soccer game for another daughter or sitting in my camp chair next to the rugby pitch for yet another daughter.

The point is not where I am — it’s how horrified I have become at what parents yell.

I am not perfect.  

I remember being overly caught up in my oldest daughter’s peewee soccer game yelling tips at my pig-tailed girl that probably made no sense to her and did not match in any way, shape, or form what the coach was trying to teach these little pumpkins. GET THE BALL!”  Yes, because the soccer coach wants every player on the field chasing the ball like a bunch of puppies. I was just sure she needed direction from me to be successful.

soccer team

Fast forward 20 years and my perspective has completely changed. It could be age, it could be because I am a coach who has been on the receiving end of a parent rant or been a coach who has comforted an athlete who is confused because what a parent says is not the same thing the coach says. I have listened as athletes share their discomfort athaving Mom or Dad bash fellow teammates in the car on the way home not realizing that those teammates are also their kids’ friends and they don’t know how to respond without causing conflict.  Again, I am not perfect.  Sometimes, I just have to yell “hit the ball harder” at my daughter, not realizing that the coach wants a well-placed off speed ball or that she is really just too tired to “hit the ball harder”.

The phrase I hear most at games, the one that hurts my heart and makes me want to turn and question the parent yelling it is:  “YOU GOTTA WANT IT!”    

You gotta want it. Hmmm, I think the first word is right. You. As in the student athlete. The parent is right. You. It is their game after all, not ours. Why do we insinuate ourselves into their game? I once had a father tell me that he had to sit on the end line to yell at his 17 year old daughter because otherwise she did not play well. True story.

I think if the parent “wants” it more than the athlete there might be a problem.

volleyball team celebrating a win

Photo Credit: Eddie Phillips 1718 Photography

Do we really think that there is a student athlete on the floor, court, field, pitch, diamond who is out there because they DON’T want it? How insulting it is to say “YOU GOTTA WANT IT. It insinuates so many things. The first is that the team/athlete caused the loss by not wanting it enough. That is ridiculous. What player ever said “I want the other team to have the point?” 

But, the other conclusions are even worse. The conclusion that wanting it is enough. The conclusion that hard work has no place in success. The thought that if you want it bad enough, then talent doesn’t matter. The conclusion that somehow the athlete laying it all out there is somehow failing the parent by not wanting it hard enough.

If we want to yell at our players and start with the word “you,” we should yell:  “YOU GOT THIS!” A phrase of support.

“YOU ARE DOING GREAT, KEEP IT UP!” A phrase of encouragement.  

And, if we absolutely have to insert ourselves into the game: “I AM PROUD OF YOU!”

At 10 years old, my oldest daughter stood in my kitchen in her cleats and said, “Mom, I wish life were a soccer game, then I could play it all day.” She loved soccer. When my 4-year-old started playing peewee ball and my teenager was on varsity, my teen told my youngest something that broke my heart: “Enjoy it now, Beanie, when you get to be my age it won’t be fun anymore.”

I don’t want my daughter to remember me yelling at her while she played or in the car — I want her to remember that I was there, I was proud to be her mom no matter what, and I loved watching her do something that was hers and that she loved.  

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