Lessons from a bowling parent

Sports can be tremendous learning experiences for kids and their parents.

Steffan Surdek
July 31, 2018
My son Jonathan at the bowling alley

Our son Jonathan loves bowling so much we signed him up for a junior league last fall. Last week was the culmination of the season when his team took part in a provincial tournament. The sport brought us closer together and we learned a lot from each other this year.

I wanted to share some of the things I learned as a parent in the last year having my son involved in a competitive sport.

Enjoy the time together

Jonathan bowls with the Châteauguay Juniors every Saturday. It is a forty-five minute drive from where we live. The car drives back and forth gave us a lot of time to spend together. As a parent, all this time talking together allowed me to learn more about:

  • how things were going for him at school and/or with his friends.
  • his favorite video games and his strategies and adventures with his online friends. I also learned you can blow up an entire city in Fortnite if you have enough C4.
  • his current interests and the different things he watches and does on youtube.
  • his level of maturity dealing with various situations in his life.

As a child, all this time allowed him to learn:

  • my strategies and adventures in some of the video games we both play.
  • how things are going with my business. He knows more about the consulting/training business than most thirteen year olds.
  • things I did when I was his age. My favorite sporting activities or music.

We even signed up for a summer league together so we got to play and enjoy more time together. Now that practice for the tournament is over, we will lose some of this time and we will both miss it.

Unconditional support is not easy

We saw him play in many tournaments this year. We got to see him win and see him lose as well. The great thing about him is he has an amazing attitude about things and plays for fun instead of playing to win.

At the tournament last week, there was no handicap, it was all scratch scores. It was difficult at times seeing him struggle through some of the games. We did not want him to get discouraged and start moping around after each bad shot. All we could do was cheer and cheer to keep things fun with no pressure from us.

We all want our kids to do well no matter what they do. As a parent, sometimes you need to redefine your definition of doing well. For us, it was how close he was playing to his average and how much fun he was having. Hopefully this set the bar for all of us at the right place.

Understand what they are going through and be an example

Jonathan and I play together in a summer league. A few weeks ago, I was having a miserable game and could not make a spare to save my life. After two games, I was pretty angry with myself and was ready to sit out the entire last game.

Being the kid he is, he offered to throw in my place to "get more practice". I let him do it for two or three frames before the shame of setting a bad example set in. I got back up, thanked him, picked up my ball and started playing for fun again.

How could I dare tell him in the future to brush it off and stay in a bad game if he saw me pull out of one out of anger. Needing to be accountable is such a wonderful thing!

The other cool thing about getting more into bowling this year is seeing for myself it is not easy. Wanting to play and keep up with him, I got some coaching sessions on the side for myself to learn some technique. It surprises me how many parents get upset over a shot their child missed without even having tried that same shot once themselves.

Learn to better understand your child

As a coach, it is almost natural for me to scan people's body language for different things. Looking at my son play, I got to learn a lot about what he looks like when stressed. I can see the difference between that state and when he gets excited in a healthy way before a game. I also got to learn about his way of being when he is happy or frustrated.

All these allow me to better understand his needs during a game. Does he need me to help him get back into his bubble or does he need to laugh to blow off steam and get back on track? Does he need me to leave him alone and figure things out for himself?

The great thing is that all these apply not only when he is bowling but also when I look at him in other aspects of his life. It is fascinating to see the type of person our son is transforming into.

Passionate coaches truly make a difference

We are very lucky to have such dedicated and passionate coaches surrounding the kids in our league. It takes a special breed of people to give away so much of their time in service of kids and their sport. Over the last year seeing the growth of our son in this sport has been a gift.

When they are with our kids in tournaments, they take care of them and support them a lot. We sometimes take such people for granted with their generosity and we should make sure we do not. I learned a lot from their passion and dedication.

As a parent, one of the big things I worked on with our son was to get him to express his needs to his coaches. If he was not happy with something, instead of grumbling to us, I taught him how to tell them in a healthy way. We also had a lot of great conversations in the car following practices about what he learned that day.


I wrote this in the spirit of sharing part of our experience in case it could be useful to other parents out there. We all experience being with our kids in different ways and I wanted to offer my perspective.

Since Jonathan started bowling, it turned into a tremendous opportunity for father-son bonding. We go out once a week to play together throughout the year and it gives us some nice memories for later.

One of the biggest lessons for me has been around how to keep making this a learning experience for both of us. It is about what can we learn about each other and what can we learn that we can apply elsewhere in our lives.

How do you deal with your kids' sporting activities? What are you learning about yourself and about your child? How are you using this to build a stronger bond with your child?