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The Dark Side

I have been there. I have been to the dark side. I have been that parent that explodes at their child for losing, playing beneath their standard level, for simply being human. It is the most horrible place to be. It tears at the soul. It screams of personal insecurity. It reeks of human error. It just plain sucks. On the bright side, I have never met anyone who hasn’t at least had one moment. I know I have cringed in disgust as my son swung at an outside pitch for strike three. But mostly I have jumped up and down as he stepped up his game at critical moments. I have felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as my daughter shoots at the goal and flat out misses an easy, uncontested shot. And I have reveled in her making game changing shots. I have cheered close tennis matches that were losses and smiled with pride for a great come back.

The moment, however, that became a game changer for me was when I actually got angry and mad at my youngest daughter when she lost a final. Why? It snapped her 22 match win streak. Why? Because I thought my daughter needed to make some better calls. Why? Because I wanted her to win. Yes, I said it. I wanted her to keep on winning. The reality is, she did too. Did I really think she lost because she didn’t want to win? Of course not. The other girl played slightly better that day and deservedly won. It’s what happens in sports. I did not sleep well for days after that incident. I had always sworn I would not be that parent that gets mad at my kid for losing. I have seen it so many times over the years when parents yell at their kids for making mistakes, poor strategic decisions, or having an off day. It’s hard to accept when another person just has a better day.

But I learned on that day that I never want to be that parent again. I just want to watch my kids play and do the best they can on that given day. I don’t want to hear that they should have done this or they should have done that. I’m pretty sure that by now they know that too. What I want to be is the parent that says if you have to choose winning or having fun, choose having fun. The winning will come with the right amount of work and desire. Forgetting why they play is to forget what got them there to begin with: a love of the sport.

Yes, watching our kids be successful at their sports is wonderful. Watching them struggle hurts us probably more than it hurts them. Crossing over to the dark side is the last place we should ever want to find ourselves as parents. It’s those moments we need to step back, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that this is for them. Our only job is to support and encourage. They know the bad stuff; they don’t need our reminders.

What did I learn from my journey to the dark side? I learned I don’t want to be that parent. I don’t want to apply so much pressure on my child to succeed that they hate their sport and hang up the towel. I want to be the parent that just goes to games and watches. I want to sit by myself away from others so I don’t hear comments – good or bad. I just want to be there in isolation relishing the moments for what they are: theirs. It doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t times I can feel that dark side lurking over my shoulder, waiting to pounce. I must be stronger than the dark; I don’t like it there.

Update 2022: I wrote this in 2013. It's been many years since I was compelled to confess my dark side sins. I wish I could say that I was able to avoid the dark side. But I will admit, I did not. It's easier to avoid in a team sport. But tennis would bring it out in me. I tried hard. But there were just times when I weakened, when the darkness pounced, when I became that parent. It would be worse if I didn't admit it. I did learn in the process to walk away. I would go talk to other parents. I would lurk in the distance. I would go to the bathroom. A lot. I would just find ways to disappear when I knew that darkness might be lurking, when my expectations exceeded the output that day. I own it. We all need to.

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