A few days ago I ran into a former coach, just a chance meeting, but we had time to have a conversation with each other rather than a passing hello. And since then, something she said has stuck with me and given me reason to think on it.
She said "Boys play sports to feel good and girls have to feel good to play sports".
To feel the best about themselves they have entirely different needs. And it is so true. At least it is in the small sample size in my home. When Riley is feeling good, feeling supported and loved and encouraged, she is capable of playing sports beyond her baseline capability. Davis feels better about playing the more he plays; anything that happened prior to that doesn't impact his outcomes.
This theory caused me to think back on when I was most successful in sports. I was at my best when I was surrounded by positive people who I knew believed in me. Coaches, teammates, other families. When we were all able to feel good about what we were doing, we felt good and we played well. Even if we weren't always winning.
I adopted the habit of telling Riley after every game or practice, "I am really proud of you, I love watching you play". End of conversation. I will occasionally add, that if she has any questions or wants to talk more about a game or theory of the game, I am glad to listen. And sometimes she will open up and want to talk about it, others she make think on for days before she is ready to talk. I know that since I have started this she and I have a better relationship and she has more positive feelings about sports.
I think that sports are especially important for girls. It promotes more positive body image (something that is critical in those difficult developmental years), it encourages leadership skills, it teaches discipline and focus.
Davis isn't very far into his explorations of sports, but he is already completely different to work with than his sister. I have been operating under the assumption that it is because they have different personalities. But what if it is deeper than that. What if it is truly a different brain chemistry that is satisfied by playing sports?
I believe that once we know better, we are obligated to do better. I now know better how to support my kids as athletes, and especially my daughter, so now I have to do better.
I hope that we have the chance to work with coaches who are willing to understand the psychology of working with young athletes and are willing to differentiate the needs of various people to help them feel their best and perform their best.
Each year of being around youth sports makes me feel so naive. I very much want to believe that their are people involved in youth sports who want the best for every child on their teams and who want to find the key to success for everyone.