Parenting is the most difficult job in the world. There are numerous good intentions and a fair few bad outcomes. As parents, all we want is the best for our children, but in our pursuit to be helpful, we often become the opposite.
Nowhere is this more prominent in the idea Don Macpherson labels ‘Accidental Mind Coach’. This is when we affect the thinking or mindset of others in a negative way, without that being our intention. It is very easy to do. And while I’m not expecting you to be able to rid yourself of the problem immediately, just being aware of the idea could be the first step on the way to becoming a more effective person and parent.
The good news is that, in one way, the answer is relatively straightforward. And this links in neatly with another of my ideals, that ‘less is more’. We will not be looking to add, just take away.
As parents, we often fall into the trap of thinking our children need help. When what they really need is support. Now, to make my point, the language has to be pretty specific here, as support and help are almost synonymous. But, for me, in this instance, help is when you involve yourself in the problem they are trying to solve; support is when you remain separate, but provide other things that allow them to succeed on their own.
Let me put it like this: a ‘supporter’ at a football ground stays in the stand, making those on the pitch feel valued and appreciated, allowing the players to do their thing. A ‘helper’ at a football ground takes to the field as they think the footballers need physical help getting the ball into the back of the net. Imagine your child is a footballer: which one would they want – a supporter or a helper?
I wrote a piece for a well-known website about rugby players and their dads. I wanted to examine the relationship between players and their fathers; former players and their sons; and former players who had managed to create professionals in their offspring. I interviewed some of the game’s greatest names and the insights were fascinating. They constantly feed into my appreciation of this area of parenting. If you can, do give it a read.
One of the people I spoke to for the piece was Michael Lynagh. One of the most famous and successful names in Australian Rugby: a World Cup winner, a ‘hall of famer’, a record points scorer, and also now, the father of one of the most exciting names in Premiership Rugby. Louis Lynagh (pronounced Lewis) is a Harlequins superstar and destined for great things internationally with England. I was desperate to know what pearls of wisdom Michael had given during the formative years of Louis. A great player had begotten a brilliant young talent: surely there was some amazing parental advice to learn from; the answer was as surprising as it was enlightening.
Lynagh senior said pretty much nothing. He didn’t try and impart any of his experience or knowledge. He knew that Louis would find that on his own, via his own means. All he did was support. He often went to watch, stood on the sidelines and allowed his boy to know he was there. He praised his son’s efforts; he reminded him that he loved him and when things were tough, when they hadn’t gone well, he provided a safe and comforting space to recover. Very occasionally he would ask questions, but only as a means to see how and what his son was thinking. He didn’t advise, unless it was directly sought, which was very seldom. Other than that he listened, drove the car and smiled.
Michael Lynagh made it very difficult for him to become an ‘Accidental Mind Coach’. We all have the capability to fall into the trap, the skill is limiting or eliminating the possibility; spotting it when it happens is a huge help. Let me give you a recent example of how I did some ‘Accidental Mind Coaching’: I was umpiring a game of cricket for the team I coach. Our bowler had bowled the opposition batters out with two successive deliveries and the team was facing a cricketing rarity: a hat-trick ball. Feeling the tension and wanting to help, I spoke: “Right boys, concentrate, you don’t want to be the person who drops the hat trick ball…”
You may be able to predict what happened. The ball flew skywards off the top edge of the bat, two players converged, eyes keenly fixed on the lofted cherry, bumped into each other, and the ball hit the ground with the sort of dull thump that represented all of our disappointment.
Why did I speak? I wanted to help. I involved myself in their world and drew their attention to a particular happenstance. That was my first mistake. The second was I placed the idea of a dropped catch in their minds. If I’d wanted to say anything, I should have said: “Right boys, let’s make a great catch!” then at least I’d be creating some positive visualisation for them. Or better still, I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have let them find their own way; supported them whatever the outcome; reminded them how amazing they were and just smiled.
Parenting is very difficult. But perhaps speaking less, is something you can do from now on. Children need to find their own way, develop their own relationships and make their own mistakes. Being a parent is about providing love and support so that they will give things another go.
Accidental Mind Coaching is just that, accidental. But fewer accidents will happen if we take care. And in this instance, refrain from thinking we need to help when all we need to do is just support.