Written by guest author and former major leaguer Jack Perconte:
Parents should never pass up the opportunity to inspire kids with motivational stories like the following one. This story is one that I have never verified its veracity or the participants but makes a good point.
A sports reporter called a major league player and said "you have such a beautiful, natural swing." I would like to come out and interview you about your natural baseball swing. After a slight hesitation the player said, "Sure, meet at the park tomorrow at 2:00 pm." When the reporter showed up the player said, "Come with me," and led the reporter to the batting cage. Before the interview began the player took 100 swings with a ball on a batting tee and a 100 more swings with balls flipped by a coach. At the end of this warm-up and before the player took his team's regular batting practice, he turned to the reporter and asked "Now, what about that natural swing?"
The obvious point of the story is that what appeared to be such a natural swing involved many hours and years of repetitive practice to produce. Of course, some athletes are more naturally gifted than others but hard work is always necessary for success.
Additionally and fortunately because of this, it is not always the most gifted that do succeed. You may recall in a previous post that I wrote about the most important thing parents can do for a young athlete is to provide the correct fundamentals and the means to achieve them. The next ingredient for kids to have a chance to reach their potential is a good work ethic. Parents and coaches are responsible for portraying the necessity of hard work to their kids in a positive manner. Some kids understand the connection of hard work and success early on where others have not. Parents of the latter should not give up hope. Many young athletes come to it over time, as evidenced by many successful athletes who were not stars at a young age but eventually dedicated themselves to the hard work and became successful.
Staying positive in a realistic and hopeful way is something parents should strive for with their words and actions. Parents who are positive without being realistic are offering "false praise," which usually backfires sooner or later. Along the same line, parents who push kids to work hard but do not display a positive work ethic in their own lives is false too, but that is a story for another day. Insisting that kids work harder (pushing) rarely is beneficial over the long term but nudging kids with positive and realistic words like the following can be productive.
For child who did not seem to practice much: "You were obviously upset over the way you played. You have a better chance of succeeding and avoiding those feelings if you dedicate more practice time into it."
It is hard to feel empathy, even for ones own child's disappointment, when they did not put much practice into it.
For child who works hard but struggled:"I know you tried your best and that's all anyone can expect of you. There is a good chance the results will be different the next time."
Always providing hope for athletes is comforting and necessary.
For all kids:"We will figure it out" and "I will practice with you when you want."
The "we" feeling is also comforting so kids don't feel like they have to do it all on their own.
Finally, an example of false praise is saying "You were awesome" when their results and demeanor do not show that. It is better to address their effort "I was proud of how hard you worked out there" than to go over the top with praise.
Jack Perconte, author of "The Making of a Hitter" and "Raising an Athlete" spent 12 seasons playing professional baseball, seven in the major leagues. He's also given more than 60,000 hitting lessons at his baseball training academy in Naperville, Ill. Learn more about his latest books at www.baseballhittinglessons.com or read his blogs at www.baseballhittinglessons.com/baseball and http://positiveparentinginsports.com