Words from a parent, particularly a father, can influence a child in the biggest ways. Negative words can harm self-confidence and even cause embarrassment and strife. Positive words can help mend emotional wounds and build or rebuild that self-confidence. The following example may seem insignificant at face value. In the grand scheme, a baseball game is insignificant, but with my son everything is important. I discipline him when necessary, but I also encourage him frequently, and I let him know how proud I am of him as often as I can.
I am an assistant coach on my son's U12 baseball team. He has had a tougher time hitting this season than usual. The tough luck hurt his confidence to the point at which he believed that he could no longer hit well. During one game early in the schedule, he told me that he might as well not even try because he would strike out anyway. I improperly overreacted and grossly mishandled the situation. We talked later after calming down and resolved the matter. The next game went much better, and he regained some respect for me and confidence for himself.
Talking about aggressiveness
On the ride home after the next practice session, we talked about confidence and aggressiveness. We talked about how the other kids go to the plate knowing that they will hit the ball very hard and that even if they get out they know that they did their best. Sometimes the pitcher or the defense just wins the battle. They all want to get a hit, and so does my son. However, when he gets out, especially by strikeout, he feels that he cannot play well and gets down on himself. This discussion was all about confidence, doing his best, and just having fun regardless of outcome. He agreed that he would try that approach in the next game.
Applying the lesson
During the next game, my son approached his first at bat with the attitude that he will do his best and accept whatever happens. He walked and stole second base but did not score. A little later in the game, he sat out one inning while the other team batted. I told him to watch the look on one hitter's face. This kid's look of determination defined the discussion we had the night before. My son paid attention to him very closely.
In the last inning, we were up by one, and my son was due up first. He tapped me on the shoulder and said in a very determined voice, "Dad, I am ready to hit. I'm gonna kill that ball." Right then I did not care about the game. My son had gained confidence, and no matter what happened, I was very proud to hear him say that. At that moment, I simply said, "You can do it" and sent him to the plate. He ended up walking and stealing second base again. This time, though, he scored on the next batter's hit. We scored one more to put the game away.
Telling him how proud I am
On our way home, I told him how proud he made me feel. His walk sparked the rally that put the game away. He loves knowing that he helped the team win. If he had not reached base, we would not have scored that inning, and the other team - a very good one - could have won it. I said that I did not care how that at bat or even the game ended; I was proud of his confidence and determination. He promised to have that same determination from that point on. Knowing that he made me proud also gave him a better appreciation for the game and willingness to play hard in baseball and work hard in other things that he does as well. I have made plenty of mistakes with my son, and I am sure that I will make more. This time, though, I feel great about helping him help himself.
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