Let’s make 2023 the year we ended our children giving us the “Why would you say that!” face?
For your child it’s a tough day in the sporting arena, and their coach is in a deep and intense conversation with them. You know this is an important conversation.
You see them speaking to themselves under their breath as they pace up and down while they prepare to compete. You know that they’re trying to craft sentences which will help them self-inspire to use their potential to the fullest. You know this is an important conversation.
You see your child with a member of the medical team, anxiety written across their face, as they discuss the quickest route back following injury. You know this is an important conversation.
They get in the car and slump on the seat next to you, their eyes forward, clearly avoiding yours, emotion etched on their face, from their mouth flows words which set a sports parent’s heart racing. You know this is an important conversation. As they unburden themselves with the latest challenges on the sporting journey, you know that the last thing you want their body language to say back to you is “why would you say that!”. But more than that, you want this conversation to comfort, support and inspire change. Helping them to take the next step on their sporting journey and in doing so continue gaining all from sport that it has to offer.
It could be that they say:
“I was rubbish.”
“They don’t get me. My coach doesn’t rate me.”
“I want to stop. I can’t keep doing this sport.”
“They say I’m out for six months.”
Perhaps followed by tears and body language which says, ‘this really hurts.’
In the normal up and down of the sporting journey these are four conversations (and many like them) which sports parents will be faced with. The problem is there are well-meaning communication tools in society that lots of parents will deploy when confronted with these types of conversations. However, it has become clear* that these well-meaning attempts to handle these important conversations often create tension and pressure for a young person which doesn’t help them successfully manage the change that is required to move forward in these situations.
Here are four listening tools that society deploys in pressure situations like this, which sports parents would do well to unlearn in this coming year. Do you recognise them?
The righting reflex.
This is that knee-jerk emotional response to your child, which is a well-meaning attempt to soothe pain but rarely supports a deep conversation that enables our children to move forward. Just like an over zealous match official with their whistle, this stops the flow of the discussion in ways which only frustrate.
“You weren’t rubbish. You were brilliant today.”
“Only six months out, don’t worry. It means more time for homework and you’ll be back in no time”.
These responses may be true, but quickly firing them into the conversation shuts the conversation down. It does not allow you to understand your child fully. It doesn’t help them fully understand where to go next. As a society, we are addicted to right reflexing and giving unsolicited advice. We have all been at the end of a conversation where we are trying to sound out our feelings and thoughts on a challenging situation only to feel cut up by someone jumping in with their solution before we’ve even felt fully heard. You know this is an important conversation, impacting solutions come when we are listening for a change rather than just jumping in with well-meaning, but conversation-ending pieces of advice.
The Defect Detective.
The defect detective it’s someone who knows that a key conversation is taking place and wants their child to think about what they are doing wrong so that they can improve. Only, this fails more often and comes across as an interrogation. For every sports parent, of course, the list of what you can see your child can improve.
‘Why were you not entirely focused today?’
‘Why did you forget some of what the coach told you in training?’
‘What are you going to need to work harder on this week if you want to stop that happening again?’
Sadly though, questions which focus on hunting out the defects in your child’s approach to sport can often increase shame and shut the conversation down. The defect detective ignores the likelihood that our children are probably already being very hard on themselves. Pilling in with these defect hunting questions only adds to the unaccommodating intensity of our children’s self-reflection. It is like having that very passionate sporting armchair critic in the room with you. It is one thing to bemoan professionals you are watching on the telly about their defects, but when it is your child in your car! This can increase the chances of conflict and resentment between parent and child. You know this is an important conversation. Listening for a change, rather than just jumping in with an investigation seeking flaws can help them avoid feeling even more of a failure.
The instant activist!
Some people love a good list! For us sports parents a good list of what our children need to do is a good hiding place when we can see our children are struggling. We don’t like to see them struggle so producing the ‘what you need to do is…’ becomes the latest version of “let’s rub it better”, a distraction from the pain.
Of course there needs to be action, but just like the righting reflex, this parent-made list ignores the possibility that our children will also have a list, they just might need time and support to discover it and arrange it in a realistic and useful order. You know this is an important conversation. Listening for a change, stops you jumping in with a disempowering list of things to do. Giving them the chance to write their own list, afterall, a self-generated list is more likely to be acted on than the given one.
The hollow praiser
You’ve just seen the team you support and love get thrashed, the coach comes out to be interviewed and says, ‘I thought we played.’ Your reaction ‘did you see the game?’
Young people feel exactly the same when they express frustration at themselves and a parent bowls in with “No you were great!” The hollow praise means to help lift their child out of the gloom of negative self-evaluation, but if our children are going to learn how to maximize their potential, self-reflection is part of it. Sometimes that self-reflection will not be as honest as it could be and sound like despair. The solution however is not to cut across our child’s attempt to self-reflect with exaggerated, (as they see it), hollow praise! It’s like on the x-factor when someone is auditioning and before they go on their parents are heard saying ‘they have the voice of an angel.’ Only when they start to sing like a drowning cat, is how others hear them. You know this is an important conversation. The hollow praiser would do well to be listening for a change, rather than squashing their growing ability to be honest about their performance.
Hang on, Richard, are you saying we can’t do any of these, ever? Absolutely not, there is a way forward. A way in which you can aid self-reflection and give your advice and wisdom. There are ways to listen which allow you moments of deep and meaningful praise. Listening for a change can lead to you having a very strong list of action points to move forward and increase your child’s use of their sporting potential. It is just that the knee-jerk, emotional fuel conversation which our society is addicted to does not help the sporting parent. These types of conversations don’t help our children, because they fuel conflict and suppress real motivation for change.
Are you saying we just listen in silence? No, just listening would be a good start, but our children need us to guide and support them. I’m saying it’s time to change tools.
Listening for a change.
So what do you replace these habits with?
There are a number of tried and tested tools and approaches to replace these well-meaning and broken listening habits.
Tools which when deployed in our conversations mean our listening will be supporting change, positive and healthy change for our children in their pursuit for sporting growth.
Join us in February for a series short of webinars called “Listening for a change.”
You can sign up here: https://calendly.com/richardshorter/listening-for-a-change
It will be very practical and impacting as we explore what to replace these well-meaning but unhelpful habits with.
More importantly, it will give you a toolbox of listening skills which will enable you to support helpful change in your children when you are in a conversations which you know matters. Helping us parents avoid ever seeing our children’s face say “Why would you say that!” and giving us the confidence that in the conversations which matter our contribution, while never perfect, is helping make a real difference to their sport.
Where we can with confidence know we listened for a change.
It costs only £59 to join. (It will cost £98 pounds, but for this week it’s on an early bird discount.)
Included for free is my other best-selling courses on how to have conversations with your child.
We are also including for free an online community for you to learn and share with as we put these tools into practice.
(Normal Total value of £249, but they are included FREE with this course and can be completed at your own pace.)
The course will be run by professor Stephen Rollnick (The Gandalf of Listening) who will be helping us learn how the skills of motivational interviewing can empower parents to have conversations which see positive change.
*Motivational interviewing is a way of having conversations which empower and support lasting change. It is evidence-based and used all over the world in many contexts including sports.
£59 to learn conversation tools which you will use time and time again and see instant impact from their use of.
The dates for the sessions are 7:30-8pm GMT on every Monday in February.
The session will be recorded and available to all course members.
Places are limited so do not miss out.
Remember, it will cost £98 pounds, but for this week it’s on an early bird discount.
As an added bonus, these skills will not only impact your parents, but will be useful in every area of life. Your work, relationships and whole family live will be enhanced by learning these skills.