Revisiting the Frustrated Jock Syndrome

How to overcome a major obstacle in parenting young athletes.

Posted Oct 25, 2020

Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports
Source: Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports

When a child enters a sport program, parents automatically take on some obligations. Some parents never realize their responsibilities and miss opportunities to help their children grow through sports. At the other extreme, parents assume an exceptionally active role in youth sports, and in some cases, they over-identify with their child. This phenomenon was described in my Psychology Today post titled “Parents Who Are ‘Frustrated Jocks’ Can Harm Young Athletes.” The present post presents substantive recommendations for confronting the problem.

What is the frustrated jock syndrome?

  • All parents identify with their children to some extent and thus want them to do well. This is a healthy part of the parent-child love bond.
  • Unfortunately, in some cases, the degree of identification becomes excessive, and the child becomes an extension of the parent’s ego. When this happens, parents begin to define their own self-worth in terms of how successful their son or daughter is—a reversed-dependency trap.
  • A father who is a “frustrated jock” may seek to experience through his child the success he never knew as an athlete. Or a parent who was a star may be resentful and rejecting if the child does not attain a similar level of achievement.
  • Some parents thus become “winners” or “losers” through their children.
  • The child of such a parent must succeed, or the parent’s self-image is threatened.
  • Much more is at stake than a mere game, and the child carries a heavy burden.

What are some tips for combating the frustrated jock syndrome?

Youth sport coaches may be able to minimize the problem by explaining the over-identification process to parents. The important message is: Don’t define your own self-worth in terms of how good their children are. In addition, some guidelines are presented below.

1. Admit your shortcomings. You must be convinced that the proper response to a mistake or not knowing something is an honest disclosure. When you make a mistake, you must not hesitate to admit it and openly discuss it with your son or daughter.

2. Accept your child's triumphs. This sounds easy, but it’s not always so. Some parents don’t realize it, but fathers in particular may be competitive with their sons. When an athlete plays well in a game, his father may point out minor mistakes, describe how others did even better, or boast about something from his own sport achievements.

3. Accept your child's disappointments. In addition to accepting athletic accomplishments, parents are called upon to support their children when they are disappointed and hurt. This may mean watching them play poorly, or not being embarrassed, ashamed, or angry when their “superstar” cries after losing. When an apparent disappointment occurs, you should be able to help your children see the positive side of the situation.

4. Let your child make his or her own decisions. An important part of growing up is accepting responsibility for one's own behavior and decisions. As your child matures, you should offer suggestions and guidance about sports. But ultimately, within reasonable limits, you should let your child go his or her own way. All parents have ambitions for their children, but they must accept the fact that they cannot dominate their children's lives. Youth sports can offer an introduction to the major parental challenge of letting go.

5. Lighten-up and have FUN! Youth sport authorities unanimously agree that one of the most important objectives for youngsters is to have fun. But athletes shouldn’t be the sole beneficiaries of the joy of sports. Rather, significant adults―parents, coaches, administrators, and officials―should receive enjoyment from their involvement. Fun is a contagious entity that transforms youth sports into a growth-promoting experience for everyone.

References

The Mastery Approach Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports videos, accessed through www.y-e-sports.org.