Gratitude Matters with Richard Shorter - Soccer Parenting

Gratitude Matters with Richard Shorter

Richard Shorter joins us to kick of Gratitude Week at Soccer Parenting!!

Richard is the founder of The Non-Perfect Dad -  enabling coaches and parents to work together to produce winning character on and off the sports field.  He is a church minister and an overall fantastic person who makes gratitude a daily practice in his work and family. He shares with us some best practices for honoring those around you, and we talk about specific ways we can express gratitude towards our child's coach.

I am so grateful for the people my work with Soccer Parenting has brought into my life - and I am especially grateful to be able to share my friendships with and bring this important interview to you.

TRANSCRIPT:

Skye:
Welcome to Soccer Parenting. I am so excited to kick off our Gratitude Week here today, with Richard Shorter. Richard, thanks for joining us today.

Richard:
I love it, I love technology. It lets great people connect over the great ocean, and this is such a brilliant theme, Skye. I can't believe that I haven't thought of doing this, you're legendary for giving parents and coaches a week of focusing on this. This is superb.

Skye:
Thank you! I'm so excited to have you here, giving us some thoughts and ideas as we're kicking this off, because you do a lot of work in this space with your Non-Perfect Dad company and the education you're doing with coaches and parents in the UK. But beyond all of that, you're just pretty much an awesome person.

Richard:
Oh, thank you.

Skye:
You just have such a great heart, so I can think of nobody better to kick off this week than you. So again, thanks for joining us.

Richard:
Thank you.

Skye:
So, a foundation of the work that I'm doing with Soccer Parenting, is all about establishing trust. Establishing trust in the club, the coach, the parent relationships. How important is gratitude, do you think, when it comes to establishing trust?

Richard:
Well, as you've just said, it's one of the foundational pieces really. Because look, when we as parents trust our kids over to any professional, whether they be a sports coach, teacher, et cetera, we are handing over someone we dearly love. We're dearly excited about the potential outcomes for their life. And we're not in control of that space quite so much. And you know, as a dad, I've got three awesome kids. They annoy me a lot, but they're still awesome. And that's sometimes a weird feeling, isn't it? Handing over and letting somebody do something that I'm really passionate about, I love my sports. And so I think that unless I'm really grateful for that person and what they're trying to do, all the emotional pressure of sport, all that challenge of being a parent and letting go, can actually just start to build resentment and eat away at that kind of trust.

As a dad, all my kids are into different things. My youngest is a gymnast, my middle child's really into drama and theater. The oldest is into rugby massively. And I just think about each of the coaches in their life, they become their heroes. As a parent, that's a slightly weird feeling, isn't it? That you recognize that that adult has a slightly unique place of love from your child, that isn't quite you. And I think I want my kids to have that, Skye. I want my kids to have loads of adults in their life that they can talk to, and get great connection. And I think I as their parent, need to model permission giving and excitement about that relationship. And I think gratitude for that person, is really, really foundational.

But also, I think, let's be honest; sport is really subjective. You played a lot of soccer, you've got a great career. I'm sure coaching has changed a lot since you were a player. When we look at top athletes and top coaches, they all have slightly different ways of doing it. Sport creates a huge amount of opinion, that's why we have TV shows that break down sports fixtures for hours and hours after sport. And I think if we're going to give the coach the best support that we can do, in something that's really subjective... I've got opinions about each of my children's sports and activities, but that's okay for me to have those opinions. But I, first and foremost, am incredibly grateful that A, that person's put their hand up to volunteer, or even just to get paid, because those jobs are hard work even in paid roles. But to volunteer for that role, to take the time and the energy to do that, what is a subjective, emotional role. And if I'm not grateful for that person, my first thought for who they are, all the other challenges that come in with being a sports parent can just build unhealthy resentment, I think.

Skye:
Yeah. Absolutely. So maybe it's just this concept that we're trying to push out this week, of just the intentionality of this. And taking a moment to just step back, and allow ourselves to have that gratitude. Do you think that sometimes that is missed, just because of all the other pressures that override that? How important do you think it is to have this intentionality?

Richard:
Well I think in any relationship, familiarity kind of... You know, if you're not just regularly grateful for what you've got, and intentional about that, whether it be with your life partner, your children, your wider family, your bosses, your employees. I think we are creatures of habit, and so I think having intentional habits of gratitude in there are really, really important.

I don't let my kids go home from a training session unless I have heard them say thank you to their coach. For me, that's how a session ends. I don't care if they're unhappy, I don't care if the game was awful. They go over, and I prefer for them to shake their hand as well, because I just think that little bit of human physical contact is great as well. But I'm not going to force my kids to do that. But I want them to eyeball the coach and say, "Thank you for that session. Thank you for today." I think that for me, is the end of their contact with their kid, and I want to say as well, if I get a chance to get near the coach, I realize at the end of sessions that's not always possible for all the parents, I want to be in that habit of doing that. Because there also may be awkward conversations around what's been happening on the pitch. Children aren't always happy in a sports environment, and I think it's for parent and coach to have a really mature conversation about how to seek, to tweak some of that environment sometimes to help the child be... Especially when they're younger. As they get older, I think it's for the child to join in that conversation as well.

But I think if you're not coming from that place of gratitude, if you're coming from that place of service user... Like, "I've paid my money, so I've got my opinion," and I just think that's a really, really unhealthy approach. For me, I don't think I'm a customer of any of the sports teams that my children go to. I am buying them quality time in a quality environment. That's what I'm doing. I'm not a customer. That's the only outcome I want, is that my kid gets access to that coach and their environment. I'm not a customer, per se. And I want to be really grateful that my kids have got access to that environment, and to have those habits.

Skye:
Yeah. You said so many things that really resonate with me. Let's spend some time, and maybe dive into why we have a tendency to not have trust in these environments. And then maybe that will help us understand the true intentionality that we need to have to establish it. When I started down the Soccer Parenting path six years ago, some of my very first presentations that I ever gave to coaches and to parents was establishing trust in the coach/parent relationship. And so, we started out that presentation defining the youth soccer, youth football ecosystem, and why we have a lack of trust. You've mentioned a few of them, what would you say are some of the primary drivers to the potential lack of trust that I see?

Richard:
Well I think, two really. One is communication. If at first we don't know what's going on, if we don't know exact meet times, if there's a deficit of coaches giving quality time, parents are trying to plan diaries... It's such a simple thing. When I speak to lots of sports parents, I say, "Who here thinks they get enough time on the information that's important around the season and the structure?" And it's almost always 80% of them saying they don't get that. And I think if you don't feel like you know what's going on, then that creates a little bit of resentment, and that erodes the trust that's [inaudible 00:07:48].

And secondly, I think understanding that sport plays such a brilliant part in society. It's such a unique role that it plays. But part of that, is it's just really, really emotive. So when we start trying new coaching techniques, things like that, some of which I would really, really strongly approve of. So in my son's sport, we now have the half game rule. Every player has to get a minimum of half a game. But lots of parents don't get that. And when I think about my son's club, I don't know that they've done as much as they could have to spend time helping equip the parents with the knowledge and the understanding of it. It's just kind of been imposed without there being really good communication around that, and opportunities to express concerns and problems.

So I think, as in with any relationship, you need... I think gratitude gives you that opportunity to have a let-off valve. My son and I have just started playing field hockey together. I think in America, field hockey is only played by ladies, isn't it?

Skye:
Not only, but it's predominantly a female sport. But yes, I know in the UK...

Richard:
But in the UK, it's a massive male sport. So, my son's just turned 15, so he can now play in the adult league. And we've just started playing. And my son, he's only just taken up the sport. And it's a very low side, because he's learning the game, and our captain is an Irishman who's got the nickname Paddy, that's very stereotypical, isn't it? But at the beginning of every game, he's just like... I can't do the Irish accent, so I won't try because I'll upset some people, but he's like, "Lads, I am so grateful you've turned up for us today. I am really, really appreciative that you've given your time." And I just want to play, I'd give my life for Paddy now.

So I think parents and coaches, kind of just constantly saying, "I'm really grateful for you." And I think there's another group of people in this Skye, as well, that for me is a good indicator of how grateful we are that our kid's in that environment. Is A, how we treat the referee, and B, how we treat the opposition as well. So I actually think, I am really grateful my children have opposition. And I'm really grateful my children have referees. Sometimes, I don't think the refs do a brilliant job. But I'm still more grateful that they're there than they're not. Because if they weren't there, there'd be no sport. So I encourage parents to sign thank you cards to the ref at games, and also to clap and cheer the opposition. I always think it's a measure of a side, as to how they treat the opposition. If the opposition do well and our team's parents aren't clapping, or encouraging a great goal or a great trial, whatever sport it is... In your context, soccer. Then I just think, that's a little bit weird. These are kids. Someone's just excelled, why am I not grateful... Because if we had no opposition, my kid would have no one to play.

Skye:
Yeah. That's great, I love it. So when we were talking about the two things... And I know how your brain works, you go off into all these places, but I don't know if you'll remember where you were going with the second!

Richard:
Yeah, sorry. Focus me, focus me.

Skye:
You said there were two reasons why we predominantly have this lack of trust. And the first was communication. Did you have a second, or do you remember a second?

Richard:
Ah! Yes, I do. Sorry, I did kind of say that, that that's because sport's emotive. So, the lack of trust, because sport is emotive... I played sport, so I have my understanding of sport from my time as a youth in sport, other parents have their understanding of youth in a sport. And when we see it doing differently, we're like, "Is this the right outcomes? Are my kids going to have fun? That isn't how I was trained, the coach is not tough enough, the coach is not kind enough. We're doing too many drills like this, we're not doing enough drills." That sort of argument around if we're not communicating... So, if you're a parent right now and you're thinking like, "Yeah, I don't quite understand what my kid's coach did." Just ask them. Have a cup of coffee with them. Just say, "Look, I love the fact that you're doing this. But when I was a kid, we did it differently, just help me understand. I want to support my kid's journey, I want to be really supportive of you." It should come from coaches, but I think most coaches getting a polite conversation with a parent afterwards going, "Help me understand this." [crosstalk 00:11:39] Sorry, go on.

Skye:
I love that idea, because a lot of the lack of trust happens with parents just processing and questioning, based on their previous experiences or what they think is the right thing, the right way to develop players. And so, just being able to open that door and have that conversation in an adult way with a coach, instead of in the car, talking to your child and your child hearing all of this negativity, just by being able to approach the coach in a more professional or adult way I think makes a huge difference, than the child being witness to hearing you speak negatively or question the abilities of the coach in front of them.

Richard:
I made a decision a long time ago that I don't need to be friends with any of my children's coaches or teachers. I don't need to be friends, I don't need to be liked by them. Hopefully, I will treat them with the highest respect and professionality. But the reason I decided that was because I decided if there was an uncomfortable conversation that needed to happen, I would have the courage to have that uncomfortable conversation, hopefully with curiosity, politeness and respect. And sometimes, I wish the coaches had given me more information, but sometimes us as adults, we have to take that initial step and have the uncomfortable conversation. And most times that I've had those uncomfortable conversations, the coach is like, "Thank goodness you've asked that. Yes, let's do that. Let's have a cup of coffee, bring some other parents along. Yeah, this is really good, we want to do it," because hopefully I don't do it in a threatening way. I try and phrase all my questions to coaches as... Sorry, let me start that again, that came out really mumbled.

If I have a concern, I try and phrase it to a teacher or a coach as a question. Because I understand a couple of things; firstly, my child's perspective is true, but it isn't the full perspective. And I need to wait until I've heard the other part of the perspective. Secondly, I lead organizations. I don't get it right. And if someone's emailing me with a 10 point plan of how I've got it wrong, it's going to close me down. But if someone says, "Rich, I was a bit puzzled. What happened there? Can you just help me understand it?" I'm far more inclined to go, "Oh yeah, let's do that." And I think that reflects a gratitude and a respect, and an understanding, in the way in which you have those conversations.

Skye:
Absolutely. Gratitude is bidirectional, as well. So, part of the work that we're doing this week with gratitude week, is encouraging coaches to express gratitude to the parents for the role that they play in their child's development. How important do you think that is? For me, that is just establishing this relationship that then can be collaborative.

Richard:
I'm just blown away by how both parents and coaches just so often assume that the other person is being thanked, when they're not necessarily being thanked. So I start all my parents... I have this privilege of traveling around the UK parent workshops, a bit like yourself, Skye. And I start all of mine with a standing ovation for parents. I'm like, "Right guys, you're going to give each other..." And I usually look for an American, because I know they're really good at that kind of cheerleading stuff, and I'm like, "I want you..." And I talk about British reserve. Because in the UK, we're not very good at showing that emotion, sometimes. But I'm like, "Guys, park your British reserve. Let's stand up, let's give each other a holler and a whoop, and a standing ovation." And honestly, it always makes me feel uncomfortable. But the parents love it. They go for it.

I was at this school last night, really posh school, really reserved school. And I invited them to stand with me and give this standing ovation to one another. They went for it, I couldn't shut them up. they really, really went for it. So I think coaches making sure that happens. I'm working with an England rugby team in a couple of weeks time, the England Under 18s Rugby Team, and I'm going in for breakfast to spend some time with the players, to talk about their parents. But all of them will write a thank you card to their parents, for what they've done in the rugby journey. And for me, that's such an obvious, simple thing to do. But do you know what? That's the first card most of those parents will get from their children, to say thank you for that.

And so if coaches, on an away trip, or when they're waiting in the changing room for the previous match to finish or whatever, when you've got that half an hour of time, or when they're just all warming up, just give them a card. Say, "Can you write to Mum and Dad? Here's two cards if Mum and Dad are separated." So I always have lots of cards, so that it fits the different family situations. But, "Go and express that gratitude."

And the other group is siblings, as well. We very rarely recognize... Sometimes siblings spend a lot of time standing bored on the side of a pitch. And I think coaches, even siblings look up at the coaches. Like wow, if a coach just went down and high-fived every sibling midway through the game, the kids would just be... The siblings would just have their mind blown by that.

Skye:
Yeah. That's such a great idea, I love those thoughts. And I love just that what we're doing is establishing this sense of community. And I think that, you know, so much of the work I'm doing now in Soccer Parenting is just that, is diving into the sense of community and the importance that it is to, not even just to player retention, which we know the research says. But just to player's level of inspiration. And so, just by sharing these experiences, by developing these connections. And the way you just talked about it, it's like creating this moment. And we know that when we can find a way to create a powerful moment by flipping the script, like you're doing there by the coach giving a sibling a high five is like, flipping the script on whatever would normally happen in that environment. But those are moments that we remember, and those are moments that trigger real positive change. So I think you're really on to some really key things there.

Richard:
Thank you, yeah.

Skye:
When parents are trying to have conversations... Like, this is gratitude week, so I want parents to have conversations with their children about the importance of gratitude. I know you're a church minister, I know you do a lot of work in engaging just with families as well. Can you talk parents through effective ways, even to just have that conversation with their child?

Advice that you have to parents as they're trying to teach their child about gratitude, just ways that they can even engage them in these initial conversations, and open the door to this education for their child about the importance of gratitude.

Richard:
This is a whole life thing, isn't it? It's not just sport, it's a whole life thing. If my kids get a present, they write a thank you card. It's just as simple as that. It might just be a one-liner, but I think that's really, really important that we express gratitude around the family.

We as parents try to model that, even if the kids have to come with us for a day out, "We really enjoyed our day today, thank you for spending this day with us." Just little things like that. We do compliments a lot at home, we don't do them as much as we should do. As the kids get older, they can get a little grumpier about doing that. But trying to go round the table after a mealtime and say, "Either pick on one person, or compliment the person to the left or right." I do this a lot in the youth work that I do. "Let's just be grateful for the people that are in the room with us, and let's tell them why we're grateful." Skye, I'm really grateful for you, because I love your energy and the way that you're just so seriously committed to building quality community before building full trophy cabinets. You know? So that's me giving you a compliment. And I think getting kids to just go around, getting parents to eyeball each other, say a compliment, that really recognizes, "Yeah, I'm grateful for who you are as a human being," I think is just a really important habit that you can get into.

And you can do it anywhere, you can do it in the car when you're on the way to a vacation or whatever, so you're expressing gratitude. Around the sports pitch, one of my favorite questions is, "Who are you grateful for, for turning up today?" You know, your team mates? Reflect on your teammates. "Who are you really grateful for today?" "Oh, he or she, because they scored." "Okay, that's cool. But who else? Who did the secret thing today, the kind of unseen thing today?" And so as parents, you can start to shape those conversations and get excited about what you see your kids doing and asking them to be observant of the world, that's really, really good.

One of the questions I like to ask my kids is, "What was great about your coach today? How did they make you feel really included and involved? Isn't that brilliant, you've got someone like that in your life? I love the fact you've got someone like that in your life who makes you feel..." Whatever the kid's just come up with. So I think there's little habits like that. We, once a week, try and have a gratitude jar where we try to get the kids to write down what they're grateful for for the week and we put it in the jar. Then at the end of the year, we empty the jar and we spend a couple of weeks kind of going through it and reading it. Do my kids always like doing that? No they do not. I do not want to give this impression that we walk around on a gratitude cloud. Because they're kids, they're teenagers. Sometimes they're, "Oh, this is stupid!" Other times they write lots and lots. I think that's the challenge as a parent, is you do get resistance from your kids on these things. And it's just gently, just keep, "Oh come on, give it a go."

We do it anonymously, so sometimes they do write silly things down and put it in the jar. But most of the time, they don't. And just trying to keep riding that habit, and being really consistent as parents around those habits.

Skye:
Yeah. I like that idea too. I've learned with my 16 year old son, that while I'm driving him to school in the morning, is not the time to try to have any substantial conversation with him. That's a time just for us to have the radio on. He's just very rarely going to be engaging. But when I pick him up, I get lots of great energy from him. And so I save all my questions or my thoughts, or different things that I want to talk to him about for the ride home from school. Maybe the same thing could be said for here, [crosstalk 00:22:02] like after practice, the kids might be too tired?

Richard:
Yeah, totally. I think after sport, all they're going to want to do is eat and listen to music. You've got a daughter as well, haven't you? So, was that different with your other child? Was she happy to talk in the mornings, or?

Skye:
Yeah, definitely. I mean, she's just a very different communicator. So you know, every kid is different. The gender makes a difference, age, everything.

Richard:
And that's why I asked that question, because I think it is challenging being a parent, but it's really important we just individualize this at times. So we recognize when different kids... Listen, I've written a book about questions to talk to your children before and after sports matches. So my youngest is really cynical about anything I ask her after sport. She thinks I'm asking her something to do with my work, "This is because of your Non-Perfect Dad." "No, it's not! It's because I'm your dad and I want to know if you had a good time." But I've had to learn now [crosstalk 00:22:54]. Genuinely, "I do actually love you, you're not a hobby." You know? "You're not a cash machine for me." But now I've learned that I just have to, after gym, give her a snack, get in the car. "Do you want to put some music on?" "Yeah." Put the music on. And then I know after about 10, 15 minutes I'll get, "Are you going to ask me about tonight?" "Oh yeah, cool. How did you find tonight?" And we kind of get into that.

But it's just making sure that's individualized around those kids, I think that's great awareness, that you're recognizing... Because some parents will get into conflict with their children if they're trying to have conversations at the wrong time.

Skye:
Yeah, exactly. Okay, diving back to gratitude week, as we wrap up this conversation. Let's try to come up with specific things that parents can do with their players this week, or if they're listening to this later because this recording will stay here, that they can do to specifically express gratitude to their child's coach.

Richard:
To their child's coach?

Skye:
Yep.

Richard:
Firstly, write them a card. Send them a text. What I love about technology, is WhatsApp makes things really, really easy. My kids love just sending funny videos to family members. Get your kid just to say, "Coach, I think you're brilliant," or whatever, and just WhatsApp it to the coach. It'll just melt the coach's heart, they'll absolutely love seeing that. And then I think, hopefully at the end of the season, the parents have a whip round and get the coach a gift and say thank you for what they've done. But why not surprise the coach with a gift midway through the season? Why not just, "It's not the end of the season coach, we're really grateful you're here all year long." I don't know what the weather's like with you, but in England this weekend it's going to rain and be freezing. And there'll be coaches up and down the touchline, just doing something that just says, "I recognize your commitment." Buy them some hand warmers, if you're in a cold part of the US. Buy them some suncream if you're fortunate to be in a hot part of the US.

Skye:
Get them a Starbucks gift card, just a little something.

Richard:
Yeah, brilliant. A Starbucks gift card. Just a little something that recognizes they're a human being, beyond the coach, and just says thank you for that. Get their partner a bunch of flowers, or get their kids something as well. Because coach's families give a lot for them to be a coach. If you can just recognize that... Or you know those people in the coach's life. Just think of a little way, it doesn't have to be expensive, doesn't have to cost a lot of money. But it'll just blow the socks off those coaches, for doing that. But I definitely think, get your kid to write a letter, or a poem, or something that's based around the club logo. A cross stick poem, write the coach's name down the side and get the kid to write words that, depending on their age, fill that up. I think coaches would get their mind blown around that stuff, because when you're doing weekly graft with kids, you know you're doing good. But for someone to come and point that out, it's like, "Oh yeah, this plod, this slog at times, it's a joy but is it making a difference?" And to have a kid say that to you just really builds trust, builds community, and really affirms the coach.

Skye:
That's great. I love it. Something I'll be encouraging parents to do this week, is to just take the statement, "Coach, you've affected my child's life by..." and just something as simple as, "putting a smile on their face," or, "teaching them that they're stronger than they thought they were." Or more specific things. But I think that us just taking a brief moment and just pausing, is really going to have an impact that will ripple through our culture.

Richard:
Definitely. Well, you've inspired me. I'm going to make sure my kids do that for next week.  Watch out for Skye's Twitter feed, because I'm going to get my kids to write some letters to their coaches now as well.

Skye:
Richard, do you ever run into parents that say, or feel, or have expressed this to you? "I'm nervous to express gratitude to my child's coach, because I don't want them to feel like I'm trying to position as I want them to do me a favor to play my child more." Do you ever run into that?

Richard:
Yeah. Do you know what, I just had a really useful conversation with a bunch of parents about how around gratitude, or any of that kind of contact with coaches, to point out that they've been ill or whatever it is, because parents are anxious about whatever information they give to a coach can be misconstrued as attempting to over-influence the coach. Look, here's my take on that. If I'm trying to be a good human being to you, and you don't trust my motives, that's your issue. Not my issue. And a parent will know whether they're doing this for the right reason or not. And I think if they're doing it for the right reason, they should trust the coach's humanity to see that as well. But also, that's a tough lesson we all have to learn, that's a tough lesson our kids have to learn, that sometimes you do the right thing for the right reason, and it doesn't always work out the way that you want it to. But that's okay as well.

But I think certainly with gratitude, of all the coaches I know, I cannot think of one who would misinterpret that as... I mean if you went, "Here's £100 Starbucks voucher, is my son playing next weekend?" I think you could start to... You know? It depends how you do it. So I understand that concern. Because some parents don't think at all about how their actions influence the coach and whatever, and they're deliberately trying to manipulate the coach. But the majority of good parents, good parents will watch this, good parents will take the time to do this, I do hear that. That isn't uncommon. It's normal. But just go for it. Being a great human being will make a real difference to that coach's life. And for the very few coaches who might be a bit cynical, well that's their problem not yours. You go and be a great human being. And for the majority of coaches out there, it'll blow their socks off. Is that a phrase in America? I don't know. In the UK, that means really, really good.

Skye:
Yeah. That's good, we get it.

Richard:
So go for it, absolutely go for it.

Skye:
I love it! So this is gratitude week, this is when we're just good human beings to one another. And let's just leave it at that. Richard, I'm so excited that you were here to kick off gratitude week with us. It really, really means a lot to me that you took your time just to be here with us. And I'm so grateful that your messages are hitting here in the United States as well, because the work that you're doing is really, really important. And I know that it's making a difference. So thanks for taking the time for us, in our celebration of gratitude week.

Richard:
Pleasure, a pleasure. Have an epic week. I'm looking forward to hearing loads of stories.

Skye:
You bet. Take care.

Richard:
Bye.


About the Author Skye Eddy Bruce

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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