Like most parents, I'm proud of my kid. When she accomplishes something for the first time, however ordinary it might be, I get excited.
"Wow she can count past ten now!"
"Did she just use the word excellent? EXCELLENT."
"Awww she said thank you without me even having to ask."
What naturally followed is, however boring it might be for other people, I wanted them to witness the breathtaking progress of learning that I was seeing. So I would ask my daughter to perform, not in so many words, but basically try to trick her into showing off her skills.
She wouldn't. The second she realized that "Dad" was putting her on display, she resisted swiftly. With a wry smile, she'd give the wrong answer, or ignore me altogether. What's up with that?
Now, I happen to be smart enough that I have contracted out teaching my own daughter to swim. She's been taking swimming lessons for a couple of months now, and is just starting to get a little independence around the water.
A couple weekends ago, she jumped from the side of the pool into the water unassisted. I tried to remain composed on the outside, but on the inside I felt pretty much like Chad LeClos' dad in 2012:
My daughter was excited too, but not for the same reason. She just knew that she had been scared but tried something new and it all worked out.
The next weekend being Thanksgiving, there were no swim lessons. I thought to myself- "she's making progress, I should take to her to the pool to reinforce that".
I told her we would go swim together. She was excited. I said "we can practice jumping into the water!" in my best excited dad voice.
Her face turned. "I don't want to go to the swimming pool daddy" she said looking at the floor. I didn't get it at first. Slowly it crept up on me- she instinctively felt that our trip to the pool had turned into another performance.
I course corrected: "let's go to the pool and play". The response was a resounding "YAY!!!". We drove over and I decided to just get in the water with her and see what happened.
There were other kids there. One of them strode confidently to the side of the pool and jumped into the water, popping up with a wide grin.
"Can I do that daddy?" my daughter asked. I stifled myself, then responded, "yes, of course".
She must have jumped into the water 20 times or more.
Not Only Parents
I know what you're expecting now. There's an obvious lesson for parents here, I can't deny that. Kids want you to be their parent, period, and you should be so lucky to have them remind you of that.
There's a lesson for coaches as well. Yes, our job does involve the performance of athletes, that is unavoidable. But even our non-related "kids" that toil back and forth in the water for us should naturally push back against coaches putting performance first and relationship second.
No one wants to feel that they are a collection of performances, because everyone has good and bad days, and we all fail many times on our way to success.
I'll try to remember that when I'm back watching someone else teach the swim lesson this Saturday, but also when I'm the one delivering the instructions to someone else's kid on Sunday.