Every weekend the players line up on the field, the referee blows the whistle and the microscopes come out. I’m speaking figuratively of course. Although a fusion between youth sports and science would be great, I’m talking about the tunnel vision of the fans on the sidelines. It’s actually not their fault. It is in our nature to pay attention to the things that we care most about. So a parent’s focus on their child at a time of high emotion is both normal and expected. Our youth sports culture has definitely swung toward the extreme with cost, intensity and behavior. The thing that we often lack as we go through life is perspective. We tend to think that the way we perceive the world is the way that the world is. It is only our version. There are billions of others and none of them is completely correct either. So it may be valuable to gain a different perspective.
Go to a youth sporting event of someone else’s kid, not a niece or a close friend’s son but two levels of separation. It may just be a different age group at the club that your child plays for. Choose a child that you’re going to “support” for the game. If you’re a cheerer, then cheer. If you’re the quiet pensive fan, then be quiet and pensive. Whatever you would normally do at your own child’s game, do you best to recreate it (bring your spouse to bicker about the coach if need be). I understand this will be uncomfortable and feel odd for most people but here are some things that will probably happen.
You’re probably going to lose focus on “your player” from time to time and watch the overall game. All of the reactions that you would normally have will be slightly muted. You may be able to look at the player and pick up on subtle cues about them. Do they like the sport? Do they play with joy and look like they are having fun? Are they afraid to mess up/of contact/of trying too hard? Are they embarrassed by the stranger cheering for them (keep it under control)? At the end of the game, was success or failure based solely on the score/outcome?
The payoff in this experiment will be different for everyone. If the difference between the fan that you are in the two situations is small, that’s probably a good sign. If the difference between the fan that you are is vast, it might be helpful to consider why. In the grand scheme of the world, both games probably meant about the same amount. Sports bring out some of our best and worst characteristics as humans. The kids are practicing regularly in order to be their best, let’s be at our best as well!