“Attunement is attention that goes beyond momentary empathy to a full, sustained presence…We seek to understand the other person rather than just making our own point.”
Daniel Goleman, author of SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE
When I was first hired to lead the athletic program in our preK-6th grade independent school, our new Head of School paid a visit to my small basement office beneath the gymnasium. She went straight to the point: “Betty Ann, do you realize that you come across as defensive?” Well, of course I immediately became defensive. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. She proceeded to assure me that her questions were not necessarily concerns, but an attempt to understand. As I matured under her leadership, she encouraged me to develop this quality in my relationships with athletes, parents, coaches, and other co-workers. When questioned, I sought to be transparent, and when I encountered criticism, she taught me to look for the “nugget of truth” that could improve our program.
Stop a moment to consider the others with whom you are traveling along the youth sports journey, as you navigate with your child. There are coaches/instructors, other players, other parents and fans, as well as officials and administrators. Begin with the primary relationships, the ones shared between you, your child, and his/her coach. In many respects you form a partnership because of common goals and ideals. As you cultivate and apply this skill of listening, seeking to understand, you may gain valuable cues from your child, or important information about your child from the coach. Although your parental role evolves as the youth sports experience unfolds over time, within this partnership the key to successful interaction is to seek to understand.
The other parents who are sharing the sports experience can impact the experience in positive or negative ways. Based on their different approaches and interactions I have categorized sports parents into three primary groups: lions, tigers and bears. The lions will listen, affirm, and appreciate other children as well as their own. They contribute to positivity surrounding the team. Tigers, on the other hand, are concerned almost exclusively with one player, their own child. Communication is more challenging, and listening can be inconsistent, or even non-existent. However, inside almost every parent is an inner bear who seeks to protect its offspring regardless of attempts at communication. Thankfully, bear manifestations are usually temporary and communication can be restored once emotions are back in check. (There will be further description of these approaches in future posts.)
When relationships among parent, child, and coach are strong, there is transparency along with the intent to understand one another. This can impact not only the enjoyment of the sports experience, but the child’s performance. The entire culture of the sports experience is enhanced when all stakeholders are committed to this standard of behavior. Make it your aim to be attuned to others and in so doing expect the level of mutual respect to rise, along with greater enjoyment and enduring friendship.