The Sporting Life

Developing competitors, coaches, and sports communities

Sporting Experts, Parenting Amateurs

Sports Parenting Lessons from the Pros

Blog spaces and sports communities have been buzzing about HBO’s recent program State of Play: Trophy Kids .  The discussions have taken a on a unique tone, one of self-reflection.  This is quite a pleasant surprise.  HBO is in the entertainment business and popular programming involving family dynamics in this day and age is edited, coaxed, and cajoled into being cheap laughs and feigned horrors from viewers.  Behaving badly has become good for business, but short on public service.  Cheers to Peter Berg for bringing a level of gravitas to the conversation about families in sport.  It is a discussion not to be taken lightly, as I recently wrote, “Neither athletic excellence nor personal well-being occurs in a vacuum…families shape us, stress us, and support us.”

While the conversations about raising a student-athlete are always nice to see, a particular crowd’s conversation has caught my eye and ear: professional coaches and sports professionals.  People that know something about high performance and the journey to success on the highest stages.  Individuals that recruit athletes and interact with their families.  Sports experts that more often than not eat and drink their sports 365 days a year.  Resoundingly all commented that they were “shocked” by the show.  This is of little surprise and makes little news.  It is concern that followed their gut reaction that was more interesting, “I hope I don’t act that way with my kids…”

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There was a universal acknowledgement that sport’s parenting is tough and it is so easy to walk the fine line between caring and crazy… even for the professionals.  It would seem reasonable to assume that a NCAA head hockey coach could carry himself with composure when he is behind the bench of his eight year olds youth soccer team.  Maybe, but his personal reflection suggests otherwise.  It would make sense that a professional athlete that had a career in excess of ten years could find the humor in the stumbles and struggles of nine year old hockey players.  Maybe, but his musing about life in the rink suggest otherwise.  All of the individuals in these unique discussions are normal parents with supernormal knowledge of sport, yet all agree that the emotion of sport creates a shaky balance beam.

Too often society’s approach to sports is paradoxical – serious in emotional investment, yet frivolous in community educational investments.  The growth and development of children at play ought to be too important for this amateur approach to education.  Emotional education of players and coaches is expected… sports parents should not be left on the sidelines of these standards.  Emotion that we fail to reflect upon can quickly turn into a train running off the tracks.  Learn from the sports experts and take a moment to step back to consider if the line of supporting the student-athlete has been crossed into unfair and unhealthy stressing.  We all have to check ourselves – regardless of the “expertise” we carry to the playing field.

Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos SPC and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Sport Psychology at Boston University’s School of Education.

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