A Father's Gift: Did You Learn Anything, Tiger?

06/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Jan 11, 2016

Nike has done a fantastic job capturing the spirit of engaged parenting. In the controversial Tiger and Earl Woods NIKE commercial, Tiger's father, Earl Woods, is heard saying:

"Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are ... and did you learn anything?"

Independent of a discussion of Tiger's conduct (as well as the original context of Earl's recorded thoughts), the shared perspective of Earl Woods can be used as a wonderful guide for those parenting young athletes.

Earl seems to be emphasizing the importance of open and respective dialogue in exploring and understanding his son's thoughts and feelings. Rather than focusing on any particular behavior, he has an acute interest in the motivation underlying it. Earl's intention becomes clear: If he can better understand those thoughts and feelings, he will better understand how he can help his son learn and grow.

Earl clearly had an understanding that thoughts and feelings precede action. This awareness is deceptively simple, and within it lays an important concept for parenting: Once we understand the thinking behind an action, we can begin to influence change in a desired direction.

If thoughts and feelings are the movers for action, then we certainly need to pay attention to both if we want to cultivate (or reduce) either random or habitual actions. The tricky part is, both thoughts and feelings are completely invisible. The only observable glimpse of what another person might be thinking or feeling is through their body language or what he/she might say out loud. But until a person puts words to his/her experience, we can never truly know the actual thoughts and feelings that preempt the behavior. It seems clear to me that this is the wisdom behind Earl's suggestion to inquisitively explore by promoting discussion with his son.

If you are involved in supporting a young athlete, see if you can generate discussions that can allow you both to better understand the thoughts and feelings that come right before, during or after a behavior. This isn't easy, but it just might help you gently guide his/her actions as you also foster a greater sense of self-awareness for your son/daughter.

Here are a few good starters (that I think Earl might also have appreciated):

  • What did you learn at practice today?
  • How can you use that in your next game?
  • Right before you went on the field, can you remember how you felt?
  • When you turned over the ball, it looked like you let go of the mistake. How did you do that? What did you say to yourself that helped?
  • What kind of thoughts were you thinking right before the end of the game?

Dr. Michael Gervais, is the Director of Performance Psychology at D.I.S.C Sports and Spine, An Official Medical Service Provider for the U.S. Olympic Team. Dr. Gervais, as a licensed psychologist in California, has consulted with numerous NHL, NBA, NFL, UFC, MLS, AVP, Mixed Martial Arts fighters, Olympians, collegiate athletes, and military personnel. Most of his time is spent with people who are at the "top of their game," performing on the largest stages in the world. Dr. Michael Gervais is a published, peer-reviewed author. He is a nationally recognized speaker on issues related to human performance.