I Love to Watch You Play

As a parent of children involved in various activities and sports, it is often difficult to know how or what to say to best support your kids. You want to encourage them and guide them so that they can improve, but without being critical and making them feel as though their efforts are not good enough.

Pursuing Excellence

I grew-up in a family/community where hard work, determination, perseverance and strong work ethic were common place. I remember being conscientious and responsible from a very early age. In fact, to this day I have two recurring nightmares:  one about being late for work and the other about forgetting to hand in a University paper on time and it being discovered that I am a fraud and really don’t have a University degree at all!  So for me, it is difficult to understand why anyone would complete a task, pursue an interest or play a sport without trying their very best.  Not striving for perfection necessarily, but working hard and giving it everything you’ve got in the pursuit of excellence. As a teacher and parent, I have always told my students/kids….don’t ask me “Is this good enough?” – if you have to ask me that, then it’s not. You should complete every task to the best of your abilities and only when you have done so, is it “good enough”.

Having said this, you can see how it is difficult for me to connect with my kids about their interests and activities without conveying a message of “it’s not good enough”.  I really have to think about what I am going to say and how I am going to say it, for I know one of my greatest weaknesses is saying too much. I am great at picking out the highlights and complementing them on their effort, but it is difficult for me not to follow it with….”next time you could try to….”  It is in my nature to want to teach and help my children to reach their true potential, but is our advice what our kids really need to hear?  My cousin Elsie shared this awesome article called “6 Words You Should Say Today”.  The article suggests that the words that have the most profound impact on kids are simply:

I love to watch you play!

My Revelation:  There’s No Denying It!

No coaching at the end, no words of advice, just simply – I love to watch you play. When I read this article, it really resonated with me because I have used these words many times with my daughter Eden when she plays piano.

I do not have a musical bone in my body and get stressed when asked to publicly clap to the beat. I do love to dance with my kindergarteners and in fact will sing my heart out when in their company.  They are five years old, think I rule the earth and they don’t seem to notice that I am not great at singing or dancing. We have fun learning together and that’s all that matters.

However, when it comes to knowing and understanding music, I am completely illiterate. I am unable to help Eden with her lessons and homework and have no words of wisdom to offer her.  I can not read a single note of music and am in awe of her ability to pick it up so quickly and figure out songs by ear.  She is the expert, not I. I simply “love to hear her play“.  So when she practises and plays, my comments are always positive, uplifting and simple, for there is no advice I can offer. I wonder if this is what draws her to piano and music.  It is her talent, her interest and her area of expertise.  There is no criticism, no judgement.  When engrossed in her music, she displays an aura of confidence.  She loves to practise and play and never needs to be reminded.  She is completely relaxed and at peace when at the piano.  It is like her “safe” place.  I have never stopped to think about any of this before, but as I was writing this post, I realized so much about her and can’t help but wonder if her passion for music is not somehow connected to the fact that it is something that is completely hers to excel at.  I am sure to the trained ear, there are many areas where she could improve, but fortunately for her, no one at our house has the wisdom to offer any tips ~ we simply “love to hear her play“.

Eden piano recital

Eden at her 2013 piano recital.

I played high school volleyball and continue to play most Thursday evenings.  I encouraged Eden to get involved in mini-volleyball in grade 4 and she seemed to really enjoy it and continued for 2 seasons. However, there were times when she would make comments about not wanting to go or that she didn’t actually like it.  Of course, being a volleyball player, I always had lots of tips and suggestions on how she might improve her skills. Many times I offered to go outside to “volley” together.  She always said “no, she didn’t feel like it.”  This year, she quit and decided to take up dance.  Hmmm, I am not much of an expert at that either….unless of course you count “Tooty-Ta” – I rock at that dance!

It’s pretty hard to swallow, but also difficult to deny. Did I drive her away from volleyball with my “support”?  I am guessing the answer is “yes”.  It makes me feel sad that I might have made her feel bad about herself, even with the best of intentions.  The lesson to take away is this, saying less is worth far more.  Although hard, I will try to bite my tongue and save the tips and critiquing for the coaching staff ~ and just let my kids know how much I love to watch them play!

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Part 1: Born to Win

Born to Win

I believe that every person has a special gift and contribution to make in this world.  We strive to instill this positive attitude in our children, but in an effort to fight the battle against a generation of youth who display an aura of “entitlement”, we consistently talk about work ethic and what it takes to be successful at anything in life.  It is like walking a balance beam, trying to keep your children’s dreams alive, but teaching them that dreams generally don’t just come true for some and not for others….it takes effort, determination, perseverance and hard work to WIN in sports, and life in general.  We often talk about success stories like Michael Jordan ~ who didn’t even make his varsity basketball team in his sophomore year.  Michael Jordan took that disappointment and channelled his frustration to practise with a level of determination that eventually made him one of the best players of all time. Was it raw talent?  He would say “no”, but rather hard work and a level of commitment that has been matched by few others. As a parent, I want my children to grow-up knowing what it takes to be a winner and how to win graciously in all aspects of life.

Sports:  Much More Than a Game!

score board

To keep score or not to keep score…that is the question!

My husband and I were both involved in sports as children and believe that sports can play a powerful role in the overall development of our own children. Today, many are debating the psychology of whether we should keep score in youth sports or not. Personally, I don’t think that score keeping has any bearing on the self-esteem of children (they are keeping score whether there is an official scoreboard or not).  Children who feel too much pressure from sport are dealing more with parents who have unrealistic expectations and have made it more about being the best, than having fun.  You don’t have to look beyond the politics in minor hockey to establish that the problems are more related to parenting, than the scoreboard. Sport is so much more than skill development and competition. When I was a child, sport was not about getting a scholarship or making the A1 team, it was about building friendships and having fun!  As parents, we see the value of sport far beyond their performance on the ice, field or court.  Involvement in sports:

  • promotes a healthy lifestyle
  • promotes risk taking
  • expands children’s immediate circle of friends
  • teaches children about commitment – once a decision has been made, we make our kids’ stick it out for that season, even when they may not like it (we talk about being commited to a team and how others are depending on you to be there for the practises and games, it forces them to think beyond themselves)
  • teaches children how to be a team player, a skill that is essential in the work force (your grades might get you hired, but your inability to work with others is generally what will get you fired)
  • provides opportunities for chidren to learn life lessons like dealing with disappointment, how to get along with difficult people (coaches and team mates), work ethic, sportsmanship, etc.
  • provides a positive social experience where they can have good, clean fun!


Not all children are athletic, but many organized groups and activities can provide similar learning opportunities.  I believe that everyone was born a winner and should have a chance to shine, but your child doesn’t have to be the superstar of the team to gain valuable life lessons and experiences from their involvement in sports.  Every sport requires a different skill set and level of athletism.  Some sports require more precision and steadiness while others are more about speed and agility. When you consider all that can be learned through participation in sport, the potential is there for every child to feel like a winner!

We all want to see our children succeed and be happy, but I also feel that it is extremely important for children to learn how to lose.  Check-out Part 2 of this post tomorrow: Learning to Lose

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