So, since I am surfing every day down here in Costa Rica, as I described in my last blog, I'll be relating to that subject a bit more. This weekend, I went to watch my first surf competition. Even though it felt like the sun was going to melt me into the sand, it was a blast to watch! I was inspired from some of the interactions between the parents and their young surfers to write this blog...

At the local surf competition, there were a bunch of different groups that were competing and it went all the way down in age to "grommets" which were boys and girls from ten to twelve years old. It was amazing to watch them surf, because the waves were double overhead and powerful! But, they all just paddled out fearlessly and caught as many waves as they could. They were tearing it up!

When I first got to the beach, I noticed how all the competitors were hanging out together and having fun with each other's families. The parents seemed laid back and had brought their cameras along to film or take pictures of their sons or daughters. At first, I thought, "Wow! We could really learn a lot in lacrosse from this surf culture!". And that is true! It would be great to see parents of other teams on the sidelines hanging out and having fun together instead of yelling at each other and the refs. It would also be amazing to see the players spending more time with other teams and making new friends. I think that sense of family and friendship is sorely missed in our sport when it becomes so ultra competitive at such a young age.

However, there was a dark side to this paradise. As the surf competition was winding down, I noticed a father berating his son on what he was doing wrong out in the water. The father was saying something along the lines of, "You were not being aggressive enough! You were just sitting on the outside and letting them take all the waves! You have to get out there and paddle…blah…blah…blah!!!". The boy, who was all of ten years old, just stood there and stared at his father as tears welled up in his eyes.

I believe this is one of the most painful things that parents can do to their children.
Basically, a parent like this is taking his / her own shame out on a child. When a parent is ashamed of their child in some way and projects it out to them, then they are causing their own child shame. Shame is one of the most painful emotions in the world, so why would we want to to that to our own children?

Most of the time, a child already knows where he / she has come up short in competition. I guarantee that this little surfer knew he was hanging back and there was probably good reason for it. Maybe it was too big out there for him. Maybe he was tired. Whatever the cause, kids are smart and aware of what they are doing.

Surprisingly for me, I did not have to deal with getting ripped into after one of my competitions with a coach as a father. He knew when to be my father and when to be my coach. If I had a bad game, he usually did not say anything unless I asked or said something first.

So, my suggestions to any parents who are open to them would be this :

1. Be there for your child after a bad game or performance.
A lot of times, children are trying to earn their parents' love or attention through performing. It's really important for them to know that you love them whether they win or lose, play great or play poorly. This will give them a healthier outlook on themselves as human beings and will allow them to not attribute their overall self worth to performance.

2. Ask your child if they want to talk about their performance, so you can help them to understand what went right and wrong, and support them. If they say that they do not want to talk about it, then drop it. If they do want to talk, then ask questions so they can make their own assessments. Ask questions like : What did you think went well today? What could you have done better? What can you do or practice to help do that better next time?

3. Gently guide them away from any excuses. If they are not taking personal responsibility and blaming teammates, coaches or referees, then keep asking questions that get them focused on what they can control in the situation.

4. Tell them that you understand that it hurts to do poorly in competition or to lose, but it's just a stepping stone towards success. Every athlete loses or plays poorly, but the great ones use those as opportunities to get better!

5. Take them out for a Slurpee or ice cream and help them maintain perspective that there is more to life than just winning or losing a game! Man…I don't remember my games that I played when I was five to ten years old, but I remember those Slurpees afterwards!

Just remember, kids want you to be their parent, not their coach. They have more than enough of those in their lives. Honor that relationship by loving them after a game and not shaming them. This will make them stronger than any coaching tidbit you think that you can give them.