Silently Dying on the Inside – A Parent’s Perspective

Silently Dying on the Inside – A Parent’s Perspective

‘Dad you were really pissed off this morning aye. The words that were coming out of your mouth were not what you were thinking or feeling were they?’

This observation from my 15 year son (which was absolutely correct) made me reflect on my former self as a parent watching my said son play rugby as a 9 year old. What is interesting is my son knows me so well that he could tell that I was really frustrated by my body language and even though everything that I was saying was positive he knew that I was not being honest. I am convinced that he knows this from my former life as a rugby dad who would watch from the sideline, often in isolation from other parents under the premise of wanting to enjoy the purity of the match, but all the while silently dying on the inside.
We have all seen over-invested, intense, border-line abusive parents patrolling the sidelines of our sports grounds or courts on a Saturday morning. The parents who are there to win, to watch their son or daughter be the star performer and quite often who end up berating their child when they don’t achieve their own personal goals.

This has never been me as I can see that this isn’t acceptable, but instead for several years I suffered in silence and saved the psychological games for the car ride home. I was determined not to be ‘that dad’ who marched up and down the sideline yelling at their kid, the referee and coaches amongst others. But instead, I would stand there and would literally be thinking everything that the ‘crazy dads’ would be saying and then some.

I have spent a lot of time dissecting my thoughts and feelings over that period and have put them into a few categories:
My ego and associated insecurity
As a young rugby coach I had a huge ego. I was not much of a learner, believed that I had a lot of the answers and probably through luck more than design had a fair bit of success.
The downside of this was I started thinking that I was a ‘someone’. And from that came an expectation in my mind at least that my son was also a ‘someone’ and he should play the game at a level that reflected our joint standing. Yes I know this is completely ridiculous but it is the honest truth.
The thoughts going through my mind were:
‘Why is he not playing well’
‘Does he not realise that he has to take his sport seriously’
‘How could he have possibly missed that tackle’
‘People are going to think I am a shit coach if my son can’t tackle’

And therein lies the crux of the issue. Even though I thought I had a big ego the reality is I was pretty insecure as a coach and when my son missed a tackle or made a mistake, I questioned myself as a coach. Now I can see that this is totally ludicrous, but I do think that it is the psychology for a lot of parents on the sidelines – perhaps they are just not quite ready to admit to it.

Kids being a reflection of their parents
I have been told by several people over the years that our children are a reflection of us. Now I do agree with this in part especially around things like values and behaviours but I do not agree at all that our children’s achievements and sporting prowess are a reflection of us at all.
The problem with this reflection concept is as soon as your child doesn’t achieve, makes a mistake or has a bit of a brain fart the parents’ brain quite simply can’t deal with it. This gives rise to the crazy sideline behaviour that is prevalent world over, or in my case the arms folded dying inside.
If I had a wish for my children about what attributes of mine were reflected in them it certainly wouldn’t be sporting prowess. It would be modelled behaviour around working hard, positively engaging with people and having fun!! If only I was looking at my son’s rugby as a 9 year old through that lens!!

Kids not taking sport seriously
If ever there was a heading that should be captured for the ages, it is ‘Kids not taking sport seriously’.
I don’t know how many times I have had a rugby dad come to me with this age-old problem. ‘Look Mike, my son is a hell of a player, but he just doesn’t take rugby seriously enough’.
This was exactly my thought process when my son was 9. He was not interested in practicing his passing or tackling in the back yard. He didn’t want to go for an extra run around the block. At that stage of his life he played rugby as his mates played, he had fun at training, he enjoyed a couple of aspects of the game and that was enough to keep him engaged. He didn’t want to take the game seriously.
Why do kids have to take their sport seriously? Well the only logical answer to that is because their parents ego is involved somewhere along the line and they probably think that their kids are a reflection of themselves.

My thoughts on this are very clear. Kids should NEVER take sport seriously. It is only a game. It is designed to be fun. Get that right and people will flock to be involved and from there will naturally want to improve so they can challenge themselves at a higher level.
I have certainly come a long way as a parent over the past 6 or 7 years. I am coaching my son’s rugby team for the first time this year as I am finally emotionally ready to coach him and just enjoy watching him interact with his mates and have a bloody good time. We talk about the game and his performance if he asks for feedback, but otherwise we just enjoy it for what it is and that is a great way to spend a Saturday together.

Now I just need to work on my body language cues so he doesn’t have to endure flashbacks of my former silently dying on the inside self!

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