I call it the “ride home”.
The “ride home” is that invaluable and indispensable one-on-one time a parent shares with their child on their journey back home after a particular event. The “ride home” can last a few minutes or it can range several hours. Regardless, it is precious time with a child and their fragile, developing psyche.
As a baseball coach and instructor, my example of the “ride home” revolves around tournament baseball. With tournament baseball, the opportunities for a lengthy “ride home” are numerous; many games are played more than an hour away from home.
The “ride home” provides parents with a wonderful opportunity to build their child’s self-confidence, instill humility if necessary, provide encouragement to work hard and persevere and, most importantly, to give them coping skills to deal with life’s disappointments. And, if you’ve lived any perceptible years, you know that life is full of disappointments.
As a baseball coach, I’ve sent many young athletes home after a game or tournament with a harsh critique followed by words of encouragement (admittedly, at times, I’ve been too light on the encouragement part). Once I’ve said my peace, its time for that young, aspiring athlete to gather his/her gear and head to the car.
The importance of the “ride home” is magnified after a tough loss or after a rough day in the field, on the mound or at the plate. Or, how about that drive home when the child (and parent) feels they received less than desired (or deserved) playing time? Come on! You know what I’m talking about; “my son is better than so-and-so’s son!”
After a game, I give the young players plenty to think about. This is my job. On the other hand, the parents’ job is to help that child deal with the events of that day. These life skills are so much more valuable than learning to turn a double play or stealing a base. So, the “ride home” provides a parent(s) with an opportunity to let that child express their joy or vent their frustration. The “ride home” provides an opportunity to help the child talk it out and, at the same time, parents can ask questions to help them sort through things — good or bad.
One parent told me about his and his son’s typical “ride home”. The dad never brings up the game on the way home. Rather, he’ll let his son ruminate on the day’s happenings and, at some point on the drive, his son will start to discuss things. Once his son starts into his analysis, the dad recognizes that he has permission to ask questions and interject. If the boy doesn’t start the discussion on baseball, the conversation stays light and they talk about random topics.
On the other hand, a parent can lose perspective. The “ride home” can be toxic. Maybe you’ve seen When the Game Stands Tall, a movie about a high school team’s football program and 151-game win streak that was broken. There’s one scene in particular where the father and son sit in a parked car, and the father demands that the son break football records. A loud argument ensues and the scene ends in the father grabbing and slamming his son into the passenger side window several times. I can only imagine the consequences of such a relationship between parent and child.
As a parent, I realize while writing this that it is so much easier said than done. I’ve caught myself criticizing my son’s teammate because said teammate was not in the right position during a play and it may have cost the team a run or two. I know better. I know it is hypocritical to teach one way and then behave in the opposite way. Personally, I have to continually remind myself to maintain a healthy conversation.
Baseball, like any game, is simply that - a game. The odds of your son or daughter reaching the pinnacle of their sport is close to nil. Even so, playing a sport, being part of a team, can teach so many valuable life lessons and the “ride home” is critical in reinforcing these important lessons.
Take advantage of the time with your child. Take advantage of the “ride home” and make it a positive. It does matter.