I watched you tonight as you watched your daughter playing ball. She’s starting varsity as a sophomore—not bad for a 15-year-old kid! She ran up and down the court, her long ponytail flying as she dribbled and passed and shot the full 40 minutes. She’s a hard worker, I can tell. You must be so proud.
I’d never know it from the way you acted tonight.
You started out calmly enough, eyes glued to your little girl. Then she threw the ball away and you let out a sigh of disgust. A couple of minutes later, she was fouled at the top of the key—and promptly missed the front end of a 1-and-1. You startled my own daughter who was playing happily beside me with your loud smack against the plastic bleachers, your “Come ON!” growled in your girl’s direction.
From then on, nearly every trip down the court elicited some kind of angry outburst from your perch atop the stands—and people started stealing glances at you through narrowed eyes.
You know who else heard your stream of criticism? Your daughter.
I watched her as you shouted out for her to “Jesus! Use your legs!” as she toed the free throw line for a pair of bonus throws.
She dutifully flexed her knees—but her shoulders slumped.
You cursed, not very quietly.
Others of us in the stands exchanged raised eyebrows. Do we tap you on the shoulder? Ask you to kindly simmer down, show some respect?
No one dares. You continue scowling and shouting, right up to the final buzzer.
She had a good game, your girl—at least a dozen points, some strong rebounds, plenty of hustle—her team won easily, in fact.
But it wasn’t enough for you, I could tell. We all could.
So could she.
She hears your voice over the noise of a crowded gymnasium, you know. She can pick it out of a crowd, that voice she’s listened for and to as long as she can remember. You’re her daddy, her hero. But what she hears from you tonight? “You disappoint me.”
That’s a mortal wound to the heart of a girl trying her hardest to make her father proud.
“It’s just a game,” you’d probably tell me if I questioned you about it. “I’m just trying to motivate her, make her do better.”
Leave that to her coaches. Cheer for her instead.
Flash her a thumbs up when she chases down a loose ball. Holler out a “you’ll get the next one” when she bricks a free throw. Whistle the loudest and longest when she drains a three-pointer. High five her after the game—win or lose—and tell her what a great effort she gave.
You hold a sizable piece of her self-confidence in your clenched fist, whether you realize it or not.
Open your hand and offer it back to her with applause and encouragement and visible support.
Because you know what? I watched you tonight—a lot of us did. But the one who really matters?
She’s watching you, too.
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