Parenting Through Terrible Cheerleading

Today, my oldest son’s 4×100 relay team won the state championship!!! The stadium blew up with powerful cheering, and the energy was palpable through the people who share their energy so emphatically.

I didn’t cheer.

Before you call me a bad mother or question my parenting, hear me out.

I never wanted to be a cheerleader. When I was in high school, I yelled and screamed in support for my friends and teammates, but it took me awhile to warm up to that idea. Cheering boisterously doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’d say I come by it honestly. I was genetically destined to be stoic.

Anyone who knows my dad would probably agree. At sports events, my dad quietly spectates, politely claps when good things happen, and silently shakes his head, sometimes grumbling a critique under his breath to no one in particular, when bad things happen. Everyone else in the bleachers may be squealing with joy, rattling the bleachers with their jumping, cursing the referees, or high-fiving their bleacher mates while my steadily stoic dad predictably stays the path. My mom yells…er, I mean cheers. I remember hearing her cheer me on from the stands during basketball games. I didn’t feel less or more loved because of their different styles.

Needless to say, between my own sports and my kids’ sports, I’ve spent a respectable amount of time at track meets, football, volleyball, basketball, baseball, and soccer games, and gymkhanas. I’ve alternated between no cheering, minimal cheering, extreme cheering, and back to no cheering. Now I’m fascinated in the people watching of these events….but not more fascinated than watching my own children, of course.

Now, I was no super athlete by any measure, and I’m fully aware I required coaching. As a matter of fact, my school was so small it was almost an unspoken, unofficial requirement to participate in sports just to have enough people for a team. I was defaulted to varsity because of sheer numbers (or lack thereof), and I was no stranger to that fact. That said, there was plenty of coaching to be had.

I need to differentiate between coaches and spectators who coach. Coaches need to communicate to their players, so this post is not about coaching. I appreciate coaching with valuable input and constructive feedback…from the coach. Spectators enjoy watching competitions and really get into it, which is truly awesome. There is clearly an energetic shift that occurs when crowds cheer, which can transfer to the athletes and stimulate them into greatness. A stadium can erupt with energy; an auditorium can explode with intensity. We’ve all felt it.

But at the same time, I can sympathize with my dad because now I listen to the crowd and wonder what the use (other than the energetic shift) is to holler from the stands. When I hear people in the stands state the obvious, it frustrates me because all I can think is, No shit, Sherlock. Tell me something I don’t know. 

“Go. C’mon. Jump. Rebound. Go back. Run. Push it. Catch it. Throw it.” Really?

Maybe that energetic shift is a pure-and-simple rationale for hollering from the stands. That rationale is certainly enough because it really can motivate some athletes. In fact, some athletes thrive on it. But that type of cheering is counterproductive for me on the receiving end of it. Perhaps I’m in a minority, but I get frustrated with it. Intrinsic motivation drives me exponentially more than extrinsic motivation.

Out of sheer stubbornness, when I feel patronized by extrinsic motivators that offer me obvious-but-not-helpful information, that evil little rebellion monster in me shows its head. Clearly, this is my problem and no one else’s; the more aware I am of this propensity, the less I let it affect me. However, I also believe it’s important to know (for spectators and coaches) that this type of communication isn’t effective for everyone, despite your good intentions. The most it ever got my coaches was, in some cases, me showing them just once that I actually was capable of greatness. Just once to prove I could, but I wasn’t going to share it with them because I wasn’t intrinsically motivated to do so.

{I’m now forced to acknowledge that I have genetically predisposed my youngest child to this same behavior so I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to all my coaches for being stubborn, not putting forth my 100% effort, and for rebelling. Thank you for being willing to coach kids like me and my offspring! Valuable lessons were learned, and you are appreciated, even if you’re just hearing it for the first time now.}

And what about the things competitors can never hear? Like at the state track meet today, I was standing next to a woman at the top of the bleachers just under the press box, nowhere even remotely close to track. No less than a dozen times she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Go, Bella!” before Bella was even at the starting blocks. Then, after the relay race started, she screeched for each of the runners across the field — “push it,” “turn up the heat,” “close that gap,” “you gotta go now.” I’m not saying she shouldn’t have cheered on her athletes; I’m simply observing that Bella and the rest of the relay team couldn’t hear her sage words of obviousness.

For perspective, I asked Connor if he saw me at his state high jump event today. It was a cold, rainy day so I was wearing my super cute fluorescent yellow rain jacket that Dusty teases me about and I was standing 20 yards away. There was no way he could miss me! He never saw me because he was “in the zone.” Would he have ever heard me, or would it have been beneficial in any way, if I yelled things that were meaningless through their obviousness. like, “Go, Connor! Jump!” He was so in the zone that the fluorescent jacket I wear to make sure Dusty can’t “lose” me wasn’t even getting his attention amongst all the other drab-colored rain jackets.

This practice is the same as people yelling at the TV trying to communicate to professional players via the airwaves — like my husband. Dusty is a coach by nature and by trade. Over his lifetime, he has held numerous coaching positions. He’s also a sideline screamer, a stadium whistler, and a TV yeller. All I can do is smile, reserve my laughter, and stay my stoic path until after the intense sporting moment is over. If Dusty is there to spectate, the athlete will know it — even the ones on TV, I’m sure of it. And most of them probably appreciate his spirited support.

Unfortunately for Dusty, he’s had to coach me in my motorcycle journey, and he’s experienced the full force of my stubborn monster. His well-intentioned extrinsic motivation backfires because I don’t respond well to it. I just want useful, constructive information from my motorcycle coach. Thankfully, a mere nine years later, I think we’ve come to a decent way of communicating as he coaches me to my motorcycle potential. Forever a student, I will forever want to learn my way. (Here’s where you can feel sorry for my poor husband because it’s not easy coaching me.)

Since I don’t respond well to this type of motivation, I tend to avoid offering this type of motivation — good, bad, or indifferent. As for my kids, I don’t think they feel any less loved because I’m not a loud mom in the stands. I guess I’ll have to wait another decade to assess the real damage of being a bad cheerleader.


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