Very rarely does one sentence have immediate impact on me.
Very rarely does one sentence change the way I interact with my family.
But this one did. It was not from Henry Thoreau or some renowned child psychologist. It was invaluable feedback from children themselves. And if I've learned anything on my Hands Free journey, it is that children are the true experts when it comes to grasping what really matters in life.
Here are the words that changed it all:
"... college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: 'I love to watch you play.'"
The life-changing sentence came at the beginning of an article entitled, "What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent and What Makes a Great One," which described powerful insights gathered over three decades by Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC. Although I finished reading the entire piece, my eyes went back and searched for that one particular sentence -- the one that said, "I love to watch you play."
I read the sentence exactly five times. Then I tried to remember the past conversations I had with my kids at the conclusion of their extracurricular activities. Upon completion of a swim meet, a music recital, a school musical, or even a Sunday afternoon soccer game, had I ever said, "I love to watch you play"?
I could think of many occasions when I encouraged, guided, complimented, and provided suggestions for improvement. Did that make me a nightmare sports parent? No, but maybe sometimes I said more than was needed.
By nature, I am a wordy person -- wordy on phone messages (often getting cut off by that intrusive beep) and wordy in writing (Twitter is not my friend).
And although I have never really thought about it, I'm pretty sure I'm wordy in my praise, too. I try not to criticize, but when I go into extensive detail about my child's performance it could be misinterpreted as not being "good enough."
Could I really just say, "I love to watch you play," and leave it at that? And if I did, would my children stand there clueless at the next sporting event or musical performance because I had failed to provide all the extra details the time before?
Well, I would soon find out. As luck would have it, my then-8-year-old daughter had a swim meet the day after I read the article.