The two kinds of sportscasters – and talking with your baby

The child can’t follow any of that - It’s a foreign language – his life is now, and the rest is just babble, like the muted trumpets that signify parent’s voices in the old Peanuts cartoons. So, color commentary doesn’t work. What would a play-by-play announcer say?

Mike Tirico, Chris Berman, Trent Dilfer


A look at different kinds of sportscasting offers a great way to connect with your baby, and support her cognitive development.   If you only have time for one sentence, this post tells how to follow the most basic rule of good relationships:   “Understand where they are and meet them there.”

There are usually at least two sportscasters covering a game:   The “Play-by-Play Announcer” and the “Color Commentary” announcer(s).       Color commentary “Colors in” in the game for the listener or the viewer – he or she is usually an ex-jock, and mostly talks during time-outs, re-plays or slow moments – think Trent Dilfer on Monday Night Football.   They teach.   They hypothesize about emotions. They give history, feelings, strategy, and predictions for the future.  “…He’s from Smith Valley, PA, home of Syd Finch, and his younger sister’s tearing it up in high school – I wouldn’t be surprised to see her lead a division one team.”

The play-by-play announcer narrates the action as it happens   “…Jackson, passes it to Lopez, back to Jackson, who quickly sends it to Jones who shoots … and misses.”

What can styles of sportscasting teach us about connecting with young children and respectful baby care?

Children’s lives are in the moment.   Adult conversation is usually not in the moment.   Listen to adults – it’s all stories, predictions, and analysis.   “She said ‘No way,’ but it’s just like it was with Bruce, and I bet the same thing happens again.”   Unfortunately, much of what adults say to young children is also color commentary: “Are you going to throw the ball to me?    Will you be a big leaguer some day?   Show Grandma that big throw, just like you were throwing it yesterday.”

The child can’t follow any of that.   It’s a foreign language – his life is now, and the rest is just babble, like the muted trumpets that signify parent’s voices in the old Peanuts cartoons.

So, color commentary doesn’t work.   What would a play-by-play announcer say?

“You are holding the ball.”     “The ball rolled under the sofa.”   “You are banging the ball on the table.”

This play-by-play might seem obvious to adults, but when used with a young child, it creates what can feel like a magical connection.   The child looks back as if to say  “Yes! I am holding the ball!” and you are together, sharing her moment by moment experience.

The experts call this “Reflection” – it helps the child understand their surroundings, and how their actions and their world interact – in other words, how to think.   It helps a lot when dealing with the consequences of the child’s actions:   “Your hand hit the glass and it spilled.”   “It sounds like Skyler doesn’t like the way you are touching him.”

Besides the child getting the benefit of experiencing a true connection, the adult benefits, too.   Look at what you aren’t doing when you are keeping your language in the present by talking like a play-by-play announcer:   You aren’t asking the child to perform, or asking the child for permission, or confusing your history or future needs with what the child is doing right then.   All this talk of “perform for grandma” or “be a big leaguer someday” is not at all about the child: it’s 100% about adult needs.

The best experience for the child, and really the most magical and exciting for the adult, is when the adult Wants Nothing.     When the adult shows up, and pays attention, she is taken along for a ride, to places she may not have even imagined, by following along as the child takes the lead.

“Whoa,” you say.   “Child leading?   Who is in charge here?”   This takes us to boundaries, so simple, so important, and so difficult for most adults.   Stay tuned.

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