Tips for Coaches to Help Parents Living Vicariously through their Kids
While most parents do a fantastic job helping their kids grow and succeed in sports, there are some who vicariously live their dreams through their child, resulting in a difficult situation for coaches, other parents, teammates, and most importantly, the child. Parents with a lot of “unfinished business” (the term commonly used in the sport psychology literature) tend to be the most at-risk for trying to capture their own previous dreams, and the symptoms of their frustrations often result in pushing their kids too hard, being too demanding with expectations, not allowing much room for error, and regularly chastising their kid for not going above and beyond the competition.
Kids who become victims of the vicarious parent can end up not only playing below their abilities because of the anxiety they experience, but could also be at-risk for unhealthy coping that may include drinking, drug usage, or engaging in other dangerous behaviors. Fortunately, coaches can help – below are a few tips to consider:
- Take advantage of your pre-season meeting by having a specific agenda to cover that includes healthy development through sports with tips on exercise and training, nutrition, and emotional development.
- Talk to parents about the dangers of vicariously living through their children in sports, including how the pressure often works counter-productively when kids are not equipped to handle the anxiety associated with living up to parent expectations.
- Show parents what it means to be a positive parent from the stands by modeling pro-social behavior — this means reminding them to cheer and be supportive, rather than yelling and humiliating kids from the stands.
- Help parents understand the realities of kids “making it” in sports, including how only about 2% of all high school student athletes will go on to play college sports.
- Encourage parents to talk to you if they are struggling with how to be a positive sports parent, and find resources in your community (i.e. a sport psychologist, if possible) to refer to if warranted.
Remember, most parents who push too hard because of their own unmet sports dreams don’t realize they are causing bigger problems for their kids, making it important to help when you see these situations develop. It’s also important to note that kids are often intimidated to tell their parents they are being pushed too hard, making it that much more important that you try to help parents create a healthier sport climate.
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