Those defining moments, when unforeseen circumstances sneak up on us, causing us to respond in a manner we could never have anticipated and would now do anything to change. Sound familiar? Few escape them. An opposing coach makes a derogatory comment and you respond with an extreme burst of anger. A referee makes a blatantly bad call causing a reaction even you could never have foreseen.

For all our successes as parents, we remember all too well our shortfalls along the way. They often involved our getting distracted from our true priorities, just for a moment, and the aftermath of the mental lapse. These experiences present themselves in many shapes and forms and when we least expect them.

While a bit of a strange example, I recall during our time living in New York attending a minor league baseball game with my family on a warm summer night. We had turned our attention to hot dogs before baserunners and I headed toward the concession stands with my young daughter resting comfortably in my backpack. Seconds later as I strolled past a paved alleyway between stands and concessions, a foul ball soared in our direction. Seeing the ball in flight, I went from careful and loving father, alertly leading my daughter between spectators, to an irresponsible competitor locked in a sprint for the ball with a dozen or so youngsters. At that moment, I lost all sense of fatherhood and protecting my child. I could never have predicted this reaction.

The next 10 or so seconds saw me dashing full speed with daughter in tow. After a couple of sky-high bounces and thirty yards or so of all-out sprint, I came to the realization that my speed was not that of my younger competitors and I slowed to a jog and then a walk. As I absorbed the defeat, I heard from below, “mister,” and I looked down to see a small boy gazing up in amazement, saying, “You should have seen that baby bouncing on your back!”

Baby, I wondered. What baby? Yes, I had completely forgotten my trusting child apparently leaping sky high with each stride. In my pursuit of an otherwise worthless baseball, I had completely forgotten the safety of my child.

Such it is as we enter the world of competition, no matter the form in which it may present itself. Whether it be an unexpected opportunity to track down an errant baseball, our coaching youngsters on the field or court, or our parenting during a tense moment, keeping focused on what matters most, when the pressure is on, can be a distinct challenge.

So, how do we prepare for unexpected moments, when by their very nature, there is no transition time to consider actions or consequences? I suppose taking quiet time to consider our priorities in advance is vitally important before we ask ourselves to respond responsibly under pressure. Am I involved in coaching for myself? Am I here to show others I am a great coach and can lead a team to a championship? Is that really at the heart of my coaching?

Is the development of the player’s skills paramount? Will seeing the youngsters develop their games into skilled athlete override all other objectives? Or, even beyond their skill development or wins and losses, is how I treat each child the highest priority? Is our goal to create an atmosphere that allows for optimal development of the person and the athlete?

Ultimately, all of these may be part of our plan. But, which, at the heart of us, is our highest purpose? If we know this and consciously reinforce this highest priority in our heads on a regular basis, when the time comes, under pressure, we will more likely respond in a fashion that correlates with that objective.

Visualization in sports, seeing a result played out in our heads before it actually happens, can be a great asset. I try to encourage young people to picture themselves being successful in key moments. Making two free throws in the closing seconds of a key game. Having the courage to charge out of the net as a goalkeeper to beat an opponent to loose ball. Swinging the golf club smoothly and evenly resulting in that perfect connection between club and ball. Envisioning these moments in advance can lead to your mind expecting the same result.

The same is true with anticipating how we will respond under pressure as parents or coaches. If we can determine our true purpose and then mentally reinforce this priority, we will more likely act consistently with this objective when the time comes. And, don’t hesitate to visualize pressure moments and you responding in a mature fashion. That can work as well as the athlete under equal stress.

What process might have led to my responding differently when the foul ball sailed my way? I suppose simply remembering our children come before sporting goods would be too obvious an answer. But, in lieu of this simplicity, taking time to slow down and remember priorities might have led to a more desired result. Fortunately, the lesson learned came without a high price paid.

Bill Barry is a North Kingstown resident. He writes about the local sports scene, sports parenting and more in a regular column.

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