Helping to Manage the Tears

My daughter’s U13 basketball team recently played in a large tournament.  It was an overnight trip to a major city and the most elite tournament that she has ever played in.  The coaches spoke with the players about what to expect and what they had expected from them. My daughter was edgy and snappy as her nerves were intensifying in preparation of the tournament. 

My daughter played very well. But she faced very challenging opponents.  The team won one of their four games. Watching the games was challenging. Different teammates struggled at different times and the team just didn’t seem to ‘come together’.  The last game of the tournament was probably the best game they played as a team.  It didn’t result in a win, but winning and losing isn’t what youth sport is about, right? My husband and I believe that youth sport is about learning.

My daughter’s struggle was related to her emotions. She hates to lose. She also believes that she should be exceptional and able to deal with what ever her opponent serves up.  My daughter comes by these attributes honestly, as I recognize them in myself.  I’ve probably, unknowingly, modeled these beliefs for her in my own pursuits. She has heard my own stories about my athletics career.  I was known to be very expressive with my anger, frustration, and disappointment, whether it was directed towards myself or towards others or specific situations.  During the third game, my daughter was benched for crying on the floor.  She missed two shifts while she was collecting herself as she was in no position to help the team.

It was so hard to watch my daughter in this state.  I was a bundle of emotions myself! I felt frustration at her behaviour. I felt angry that she let herself get so worked up that she left her teammates a man short. I probably also felt slightly embarrassed that the ‘mental performance’ consultant’s kid was struggling with emotions. I also felt guilty for having these emotions.  I wondered if I should stay or if I should leave the gym? How would that be perceived.  I wondered if other parents were looking at me and could read these emotions in my body language?  I leaned over to my husband and said, I feel angry right now. 

In the moment I knew I couldn’t leave. Her father and I have had conversations with our daughter stating that tears after the game are allowed but not on the bench. But I don’t think that she expected to be so emotional. This was a learning opportunity (for both of us). She needed to see me be calm.  She needed me to show her that I believed in her ability to collect herself.  She needed to hear me be her greatest cheerleader. 

After the game I waited for her to approach me. She didn’t. She needed more time.  I respected that and gave her the space she needed.  After a short while I did approach her.  I was playful. I held her, and I held space for her to express herself however she wanted to.  She was frustrated with herself for her emotional outburst. . I dug into my mental performance bag of tricks and we talked about what to do next.  The conversation went something like this…

Me: “Can you find ONE THING that went well? 

My daughter: Rolling her eyes at me. “That will be impossible. It was horrible. I was horrible”.

Me: “I agree that it is going to be hard to do.  Not because you didn’t do anything well, but because you can’t see it right now. Your emotions are not allowing you to pick out some things that you did really well.  You can choose to continue to feel this way. Or you can choose to see what is going well and build on that.  Your team probably needs you to do that. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, try thinking about your teammates.”

My daughter: “Ok.  I’ll see”.

I left the conversation thinking that it really couldn’t have gone better.  I had controlled my emotions and was her parent. I chose to see the moment as a learning opportunity.  My anger came from my own unrealistic expectations (and disappointment for her) that my 12 year old daughter to be able to manage her own emotions in a situation with all types of triggers (losing, not making her layup shots repeatedly, getting constant feedback from coaches and teammates).  The most important thing I could’ve done was to let go of my own ‘stuff’ and be available to support her in that moment. 

I left the gym after the conversation. I gave her space to be with her teammates without the feeling of being ‘watched’. I went and collected myself.  This was easily achieved as I was able to go for a walk with my new puppy. I also hung out in the car reading a really good novel.  My husband also provided a great sounding board for me and my cheerleader as well.  He gave me a huge hug and high-fived this parenting win.