By now, many parents have probably heard/read that the main or only thing you should say to your young player after a game is “I love to watch you play.” While I wholeheartedly believe this to be true (even if difficult to practice at times), I think that there could be an “also” added to the parental responsibility: also mean it! And by mean it, I mean actually WATCH them play.
I learned early on that my boys were watching me to see if I was watching them. They would occasionally glance over to check in with me, looking for acknowledgment, after doing something on the field or while waiting as a sub on the sideline. Afterward, almost without fail, I would get the post-game questions of “Did you see that time….?” or “Remember when I did….?” They weren’t always referring to a big play they made – sometimes it was something silly that happened, but they wanted to know if I had noticed, if we had had a shared experience. Ultimately, it mattered to them that I bear witness to what they had shown up to do.
This became even more obvious to me when the questions began to change as they got a bit older: “Dad, can you not be on your phone the whole time?”, “Mom, can you not spend the entire game visiting with _____(fill in the blank with another player’s parent’s name)?” While it was by no means the case that I had been chatting through an entire game, my son had likely just never caught me looking because he was engrossed in his own playing. But his perception was important to me, and ultimately, I understood that he just wanted to be seen. This theory was confirmed further when, before a practice, I got a: “Mom, can you watch me play today?”
I don’t think this desire is specific to my kids. In my years of coaching, I have also observed other players behaving similarly, especially in rec programs and early on in a child’s sports playing experience.
Our kids are asking us to be present.
This doesn’t mean that they are asking for additional feedback or critique. It does mean that they actually want you to be more than just their personal Uber and pay attention – which is really great news!
And in the end, you can honestly (and JUST) say “I love to watch you play.”
Jemma Merrick is a life-long soccer fan, long-time soccer player and coach, and current soccer mom. After high school, Jemma played both Division I and Division III collegiate soccer, at the University of Virginia and Macalester College, respectively.