If, for example, you have 3 Saturday kid soccer games, and each of your kid's teams has 9 players, and each parent says "good job!" around 6 times a game, by the time the day is over and you ditch the kids to grab a martini or the Heineken (or both) chances are you will have heard or said "good job!" 162 times (note: this does not take into consideration divorced parents, grandparents, step-parents or married couples who are not on the same page as to when an action merits a "good job!"; all this, inevitably, screws up my math and increases the number significantly). Continuing with these somewhat careless calculations, if there are 11 games in the season, and 2 days a week of practice, with an average of 5 persons present at practice (give or take 1 grandparent, 1 step-parent, 1 visiting uncle and 1 silent nanny), chances are you will have heard "good job!" 12,135 times by the end of the soccer season (playoffs not included). Full disclosure: my wife and I account for around 958 of these "good jobs!"
I will spare the reader the math for the "way to go!", but I would venture to say the number is about the same as "good job!"
Now, this is just soccer season. To include volleyball (with a higher percentage of divorced parents), baseball (more animated fathers), football (more absent mothers) and basketball you need to modify the number of players, games and practices per season and calculate from there. Needless to say, if your son or daughter likes sports, it ends up being quite a tough year and you need more than a martini or a Heineken (or both) just to get by.
Don't get me wrong: the intention of this piece is not to bash the "good job!" or "way to go!" parenting model. Like so much of life, there are scientific studies and reams of data to justify any position you wish to hold: 1) whether you should say "good job!" to help your kid's self-esteem; 2) whether you should keep quiet and be non-commital; 3) whether you should be brutally honest and say "you suck!" when your kid does suck; or 4) all of the across. Personally, I am torn about this, meaning I find myself saying "good job!" (hence my numbers above) or "way to go!" like my fellow soccer parents, but I feel I am doing a "bad job!" as a parent by doing it. This makes it that by the end of the day I am not just physically exausted from all the driving around and schmoozing with other parents, but psychologically drained due to the absence of mental certainty and clarity.
I think, though, that what is probably needed is just to balance out the equation. Like our addiction to foreign oil, e-mail or donuts, we just can't stop using these expressions. So along with so much positive reinforcement and feel-good energy vibrating in the soccer field, what would be helpful is a bit of good old fashioned despair and existential malaise. It is in that spirit that I am proposing to literary types the syllabus below as reading material during dead moments waiting for the game to start, in between multiple kid games, or if you just want to ignore the game completely and eliminate having to decide whether saying "good job!" or "way to go!" is a good thing or a bad thing:
Here it is (in no particular order):
1) The Loser: Thomas Bernhard
2) The Goalies Anxiety at the Penalty Kick: Peter Handke
3) Nausea: Jean Paul Sartre
4) Journey to End of the Night: Louis- Ferdinand Celine
5) Darkness at Noon: Arthur Koestler
6) In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir: Dick Cheney