Game, set, match

Laura K. Silver is a trustee of the Jewish Light who writes a blog for the paper’s website (  She owns The Paper Trail of St. Louis, a financial and legal concierge service. Laura is married and the mother of two middle school age children.

By Laura K. Silver

I think it’s a great part of childhood to belong to a team.  As an adult, however, I don’t want to have to get 20 people together in order to play a game or get some exercise.  For this reason, I think it’s important for kids to know how to play both team sports and individual sports.

My kids like to play tennis, but in the past few years, we haven’t made the time for it, save for a few week-long, half-day camps during the summer.  A few weeks ago, I signed them up for a few private tennis lessons to hone their skills.

My son, who takes piano lessons from a very strict teacher, came out of the lesson smiling.  My daughter, who does not have that same experience, came out nearly in tears.

“He yelled at me the entire time,” she told me.

I know the instructor and I watched the entire lesson.  He’s a mild mannered, soft spoken man with high expectations.  The idea that he yelled at her didn’t seem quite right.

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“Yelled at you or corrected you?”

“He corrected us,” my son informed me.  Having been corrected a million times by his piano teacher, he knew how to handle this.  He paid attention and did it the way he was told.  The instructor stopped telling him he was doing it wrong.

“He corrected me the whole time!” my daughter said. 

What to do? My first instinct was that it was a game, it is supposed to be fun and if it’s not fun, she shouldn’t do it or we should find an instructor who teaches her the way she likes to learn.  I thought about getting her a different instructor, but as we walked towards the car, I started thinking….

It seems to me that with the constant “great job” comments, we are perhaps raising children who are not going to be able to handle criticism—whether that criticism comes in the sports arena, the classroom or even later at work.  Yes, this coaching climate is a kinder and gentler place than the coaches of old. I remember a story my parents always told of one of my brother’s coaches. He had turned to his little league team, back in the early ’70s, screaming, “What do you think we are here for?  Fun?!?” 

It’s not that I have any desire to go back to drill sergeant coaches who value winning over compassion.  I don’t.  But I don’t think that “great job,” when the kid is terrible, is doing anyone any favors either. Like it or not, kids need to be able to accept when they aren’t doing something right and learn to take criticism when it’s intended as constructive. 

Instead of offering another instructor, I said something else. 

“If he’s correcting you, you need to remember that it’s not personal. It’s not that he doesn’t like you or is picking on you. He’s trying to help you become a better player, “I told her. “Go back next week, do it his way, and you won’t get corrected.”

The following week, we went back. She did as she was told. This time, she came up, not only smiling, but genuinely proud of herself. She had learned to take the criticism and do something positive with it.

Let’s only hope she applies this lesson on and off the court.