Last year we were so excited when our kids won high school state championships in several different states. As I thought about these kids, it occurred to me that none of them was particularly impressive at our first lesson. They steadily rose to the top. What was the common denominator?
There were several. They were smart, disciplined, dedicated to the work, and anxious to learn. Something else was evident. Their parents were partners in their goals. Parents often ask us how to be most effective with their daughters. There is no single answer. Each kid and parent has a different personality, relationship, and background. An important key is to understand those differences and find positive ways to work within them. Let’s talk about some good, and not so good, influences. Often we see parents bring stress to the lesson. Their intentions are good, but they are like a caged animal. They are nervous, anxious to interject, and their nonverbal communication keeps the kid on edge. We have seen kids succeed in this environment, but it was rare and was always an uphill battle. Show her you believe in her, you know she can do it, that the best is yet to come, and let her figure out some things. Often, in lessons, I see a kid ready to have a meltdown. Too many things are going through her mind and I simply lower my voice and bring calm to the situation, reading her very carefully to see what she needs to restore confidence. As she understands that it is okay to make mistakes and that she will be rewarded for taking chances in order to learn new things, she realizes that the rewards outweigh the risks and she begins stepping outside of her comfort zone. Successful parents often realize that new approaches may not bring instant results. Yes, we generally see new pitchers achieve impressive growth in the first lesson, but one way to guarantee failure is for dad to pull out the radar gun and put the pressure on a kid to immediately do something proficiently. The brain is amazing. It needs time to process. Studies have shown that, when you change something in an explosive move such as pitching, the brain asks “Is this safe”. It will not allow the body to go full speed until it is comfortable that it will not cause pain. It may take five pitches or five days for the brain to release the brakes and allow total commitment to the move. Allow the process to take place. Successful parents also realize that the body of a pitcher is ever changing. Things that came easily yesterday may be difficult tomorrow. The brain and body need to learn to work together with new strength, different structure, or faster muscles in new places. Good parents also realize that they are dealing with adolescents. Physically, mentally, and emotionally she is facing tremendous stresses and changes on a daily basis. If you expect her to be consistent every day, you have forgotten what life was like at that age. Some days she just needs a hug and to be able to lean on someone. There is another side to the coin. Some parents want to bring the kid to the lesson, sit off to the side, and play with their IPhone. I tell them to lay the phone down and get involved, even if it just means taking notes for the pitcher. Show them their goals are important to you. What are some of the common denominators we see most often among the parents of successful pitchers? This is not an all-inclusive list, but some conversation starters. Successful parents really don’t care whether it is softball, dance, or soccer. They are there to help their daughter with her dreams. They know it is her dream, not theirs, so their role is to support, not dominate. They watch, they learn, they ask questions, but they know when to step back and let her take the reins. The goal is to allow her learn to drive. She cannot do that if you always jump behind the wheel or if you sit in the passenger seat and shout instructions constantly. Good parents know when to provide wisdom in areas where her life experiences have not yet prepared her. She knows what she wants but may need a bit of help in formulating goals, finding helpful resources, and learning how to structure plans that lead steadily toward the desired results. She does not need you to do it for her, but to help her learn to do it herself, to encourage along the way, and to sometimes be tough until she develops the self-discipline to handle it herself. The goal is to turn over as much responsibility as possible, as quickly as she can handle it. Get on the same page with her. Too often we see a parent and pitcher who have completely different agendas for the same practice. She is trying to get the feel for the new drop and dad is trying to get her to throw it for location. The parent is pushing for more speed on a day she wants to improve the changeup. Draw up plans together and help her steadily progress in a logical direction. Don’t show panic every time she stumbles. If you are all over the map, how can she maintain a singular focus? Ask her instructor to help you draw up clear objectives for the long and short term. Stay focused on those, occasionally altering course if an issue arises, but finish that job quickly and get back on track. Make it fun! Why would she want to practice with you if she is not having fun? Create challenges, establish benchmarks and rewards, and vary the routine so both of you look forward to being there. Be the kind of person who you would like to have as a training partner. Keep the relationship professional. This can be most difficult. We all carry our past experiences into a lesson. If we had an argument before the session, we can go into the practice with an attitude. Once we step onto the field, everything must left outside the fence. I am not allowed to address her in any way that I would not address any other pitcher. She must treat me as she would any instructor. We are proper, polite, enthusiastic, and focused on the task. This is our safe haven. Leave problems at home and work together toward exciting and fun things. If we have a major disagreement about something unrelated to softball, it must be resolved before we step across the chalk. Ask her often, “How can I help you most?” At certain stages she needs a cheerleader, a critic, a motivational speaker, or a caring parent. As she learns to trust you, she will more freely share where she is at different points, and the role you can play that will help her most. You will never be perfect. The goal is to be exactly what she needs as often as possible. That can build a level of trust that allows you to work harmoniously toward goals. This will also build a special bond that will far outlast the game.