Cards on the table: I watch my children play sport because I enjoy it and I enjoy the social life that emanates from it. It is not a coincidence, I think, that my children want me to watch them play sport, and even get bad-tempered if I’m not able to. I put that down to practising the art of supporting, while not supporting.
Inside, as I watch the boys on the football field, or the 1&onlyD doing gymnastics, I am yearning for them to do well. I want that rush of pride that comes from these small extensions of yourself performing some athletic task well. I want it for them, but I won’t pretend I don’t also want it for me.
The art of supporting, while not supporting comes down to suppressing the response of the football supporter to something wonderful that the team or player you associate with has done. And it definitely means silencing the frustration when things haven’t gone well.
Presence is the first rule of supporting, while not supporting. But presence without noticing is hollow. I perform a duty for some touchline Mums – letting them know when their son has performed well and providing them some words to describe what they may have seen but not noticed.
I’m quieter than the average touchline parent, but not silent, just selective about my comments audible on the pitch. I never shout at my off-spring. I never give them advice. I don’t call their attention to praise them.
“Shut up, Dad,” I’ve heard players turn from the game to throw back at their father. I’ve seen sons blank their dads and turn away as some significant advice or insight is being tendered from beside the pitch.
I applaud the team or shout general encouragement if they are looking down. But communication with my sons is discrete: a nod if they look in my direction; a thumbs up; always a smile.
I found an articulation of this approach in quite an unlikely place – the twitter account of a man who curses an opponent while on live microphone:
From my point of view being involved in sport for 35 years, trust me when I say the best thing a parent can do is say “well done” in private
But I believe Shane’s right – that’s the essence of supporting, while not supporting. Whether I’ll feel the cost of these suppressed emotions in some stress-related illness in the future is unknown.