Parents who have “unfinished business” in sports, defined as their own previously unmet sports goals, run the risk of putting unreasonable stress and pressure on their kids so that they can reach their parent’s unfulfilled goals. Sport psychologists often refer to these as “pushy” parents, compared to the more desirable sport parent prototype of being an encouraging parent.
Pushy v. Encouraging
It is important to remember that the #1 reason why kids play sports is to have fun, but when sports become all business kids not only stop having fun, but they also become more at-risk for sports burnout and other issues pertaining to the stress of trying to continually impress their parents. Encouraging parents, on the other hand, view their child as a unique individual with values, motivations, and goals that may be different than what the parents had when they played. Encouraging parents also use a lot of positive reinforcement for effort, look for “teachable moments” in sports, accept the long-shot odds of making it to professional sports, and use the sport experience for life skills and as a trampoline for bigger things in life. Pushy parents with unfinished business don’t usually do these things, and instead tend to base the worth of the sport experience exclusively around on-field production and success (or lack thereof).
Sports are emotional and it’s easy to get caught up in the experience, especially if your child shows athletic talents above his or her peers. Still, pushing unmet parental dreams on a child can lead to devastating consequences, including premature quitting of the sport and poor coping with the stress in trying to impress mom and dad (which can include substance abuse, reckless behaviors, and sometimes even self-harm).
Some tips for parents of young athletes include the following:
- Help your child have fun with sports and grow through the experience — this occurs by providing love, support, empathy, and capitalizing on “teachable moments.”
- Know the realities of earning athletic scholarships or making it to the pros — if these things are in store for your child they will likely happen by you simply encouraging and supporting the process, not pushing it.
- Talk early and often to gauge the level of fun your child is having in sports. Listen closely, and if a break is needed to keep things fresh consider doing so.
- If you find yourself regularly frustrated by your child’s efforts (or results), take a step back and ask yourself serious questions about whether your child is failing himself or your dreams based on previously unmet goals. If your anguish is tied to your own unmet sports goals, consider seeking counseling to help work through the issues.
For more sports parenting help check out the Parents Tool Kit, and for on-field mental toughness tips pick up your copy of The Mental Toughness Guide to Athletic Success at the Apple store today!