How I Almost Became a Helicopter Sports Parent
When an obsession with winning almost caused an injury to his own child, this parent realized it was time to readjust his priorities.
During a youth flag football game, the parents of a 12-year-old boy noticed he was constantly rubbing his right eye.
“What’s wrong?” his mom asked during a timeout.
“My eye hurts,” he said. “I don’t think I can keep playing.”
The boy wasn’t having a particularly good game. His dad thought he was simply looking for an excuse to come out. He began lecturing his son on the importance of perseverance and not quitting just because he wasn’t playing well.
The team won, and was scheduled to play again an hour later. But the boy’s eye was beginning to turn red. During the break between games, his mother insisted they take him to a minor emergency clinic. Sure enough, he had gotten something in his eye that would have caused an infection if it had continued to be overlooked.
That boy was my son. The dad who thought he was teaching a valuable lesson… Yep, it was me. As it turned out, I was the one who needed a life lesson. If we had continued to ignore the redness in his eye, who knows what damage might have been done?
My son is grown now. He didn’t become the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. There would be no athletic scholarship to a Division I school or an NFL contract worth millions of dollars.
And you know what? I’m perfectly fine with that.
I wasn’t intentionally trying to damage my child just to prove a point. But it made me wonder if I was becoming one of those parents living a sports fantasy through their kids.
That experience is one of the reasons I turned to covering youth sports as a journalist. I wanted to make a difference in creating a healthier culture for young athletes.
Here are five things every sports parent should avoid at all costs before causing physical or emotional harm.
Coaching from the Stands
I’ve talked with dozens of coaches on this subject. One of their biggest issues is being harassed by parents about everything from why their child isn’t playing to questioning game strategy.
According to a survey by CoachUp, 75 percent of youth coaches believe parents place too much emphasis on winning. This is a problem even at the youngest age levels. Kids aren’t concerned with winning championships at age six. Most coaches are putting in a lot of hours and aren’t getting paid a dime. Cut them some slack. If you have an issue with a coach, pull him or her aside privately and talk it out in a mature manner.
Being Abusive Toward Officials
It’s one thing to scream and curse at your television when a baseball umpire or football referee gets a call wrong. But it’s quite a different matter when you do it in person at your child’s game.
According to the National Federation of High Schools, 80 percent of high school sports officials quit after just two years. Most cite verbal and even physical abuse from parents as the main reason. The NFHS sent a stern memo to parents in 2019 telling them to “cool it”. Many youth organizations are having difficulty scheduling games because they don’t have enough officials.
There is simply no excuse for this type of behavior at any level of sports. Like coaches, officials get little or no pay for their hard work, and they all make mistakes. It also sets a poor example for your kids, so “cool it” for their sake.
I know… It’s tough to not brag about your kid hitting the winning shot or a walk-off home run. There’s nothing wrong with being a proud parent. But constantly boasting about how many baskets your child made and posting dozens of pictures on Facebook and Instagram week after week gets old fast (except to the parents and other family members).
Sports counselor Dr. Chris Stankovich advises parents to talk up their child’s team, not just him or her. Thank the coaches for their dedication and hard work. It takes an entire team effort to be successful, so give credit to others who are working just as hard.
Criticizing Your Child’s Mistakes
Think of the many professional athletes who drop a pass or strike out in a critical situation. How many times do you see them getting roasted on TV or social media? Your child isn’t getting paid to handle that kind of pressure.
In an article on Popsugar, one sports mom asks the question, “how would you feel if you came out of a huge presentation at work and had someone immediately going over every sentence?"
Instead, she suggests praising your child’s effort. It’s OK to talk about what they could have done differently, but give them some space. It can wait a few hours or the next day, not on the way home. Your child probably already knows they made a mistake, so a verbal tongue-lashing from you certainly won’t help.
Risking a Child’s Health to Win
This is what I almost did with my son. He could have had a serious eye problem if his mom hadn’t insisted we get it checked out.
In his book Until It Hurts, Mark Hyman recounts how he told his 14-year-old son Ben to pitch despite a sore shoulder. Hyman was coaching Ben’s baseball team, and it was the playoffs. Ben eventually suffered a major arm injury, and Hyman realized he had fallen into the trap of winning at all costs. He wrote the book to help break the cycle of destructive behavior in our youth sports culture.
I believe most parents want the best for their kids, and give them all the support and encouragement they need to achieve success. But if you’re obsessed with turning your kid into the next superstar athlete, it’s time to take a step back and just let them enjoy the experience.
Winning a game or championship isn’t worth damaging a child’s physical and emotional well-being. I’m certainly glad I learned that lesson before it was too late.
Hot Takes and Great Reads
USA Softball, the governing body of softball in the United States, has named Oklahoma Sooners senior utility player Jocelyn Alo as its Collegiate Player of the Year for 2021.
Alo leads the nation in home runs and slugging percentage. She ranks second in RBI’s and batting average. The award recognizes outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players.
On a related note, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) has named Alo’s teammate, infielder Tiare Jennings, the 2021 NFCA/Schutt Sports Division I Freshman of the Year. Heading into Women’s College World Series play, Jennings leads the country with 84 RBI’s and 1.42 runs scored per game. Jennings, who was also the Big 12 Conference’s Freshman of the Year, hit three homers in her first collegiate game, and becomes the third Sooner to win the award.
Congratulations to 14-year-old Chloe Kovelesky, who became the youngest golfer to make the field at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open. She qualified May 11 by shooting two rounds of 70 at Banyan Cay Resort & Golf in West Palm Beach, Florida.
USA Today did a nice feature story on her, which you can check out here.
In a USA Hockey article, a parent asks if they should be concerned that no college has expressed interest in their 15-year-old child.
My answer: Let him or her take their time; there’s no rush. If he or she is destined to play college hockey, it’ll come. I’ve talked with dozens of kids who committed early, only to realize they made a mistake or got a better offer later. As one mom told me, “my kid doesn’t know what she is having for lunch tomorrow, much less what college she’ll attend.”
Read USA Hockey’s response here.
The National Alliance for Youth Sports has an interesting article focusing on the balance between children’s physical activity, sleep habits and sedentary time during a 24-hour day. Check it out here.
Tommy John surgeries are rising at an alarming rate, particularly among high school-age baseball players. What can be done to stop this disturbing trend? Find out what some former pitchers and doctors think in next week’s issue.
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