Pushy parents – turning kids off sport?

According to newspaper reports this morning,  pushy parents can turn their children off sport for life. So what? Do we even care? Is it important that kids should try out and excel at some sports or is it all about churning out the next generation of national champions to boost patriotism?

I think sport is good for those who will enjoy it. If you discount the drugs and cheating in professional sport, training, competing and winning is incredibly character-building and keeps kids occupied during the formative years when they could easily find less desirable ways to get their kicks.

However, forcing youngsters to endure physical activity that they loathe is never going to work.

It’s more a question of finding which sport. I suspect choices are still limited at state schools. At mine, if you didn’t take to football or rugby, hockey or netball you were consigned to the uncool non-sporty nerds.

Anyone who has stood in a bitter wind in the middle of winter supporting their child as it runs around playing soccer or rugby will have seen the “competitive parent” type – usually dads, although some mothers are shrilly rabid in defence of their kids.

A proud dad appeared in court locally as a result of decking the referee during a junior soccer game. This is the sort of guy who really cares about his child being good.

There were also a couple of junior racing cyclists about the same age as my son no 2 whose dads were ex-racing cyclists trying to steer their off-spring to greater glories.

They were was harsh and unforgiving. The attitude that second place is first loser and that you get an abusive dressing down in public every single time you failed to stuff the whole of the rest of the field. I found it upsetting to see these big boys – 13, 14, 15 – who’d just come in after racing 60 miles, occasionally reduced to tears. The dads just seemed like awful bullies to me. I was convinced that the non-aggressive, tirelessly supportive touch was more humane and possibly more effective.

I didn’t realise that my own dad had adopted the same tactic with my brother. I didn’t know my brother was actually in fear of losing because he dreaded the ear-bashing on the return journey from a race that could last hours.

Dreadful, I thought. I provided the transport and support for son 2 at most of his races but my ambition was only for him to do his best and return in one piece. It was up to him. He did very well – and in retrospect I’m glad that he didn’t do better, which would have led him to want a career in cycling – but if I’d been harsher and more fiercely competitive, yes I think he would have won more.

The most surprising thing of all is that my brother now looks back on all aggro and says he needed that to spur him on. It helped enormously, he believes, to make him the ultra-competitive aggressive successful rider he became. Being in fear of dad’s disapproval of failure no doubt contributed to the “red mist” which descended, producing the explosive power to win those critical sprints.

So for every pushy parent who turns his or her child off sport, perhaps there are many more who are actually supporting the success of their kids.

Author: janh1

Part-time hedonist.

9 thoughts on “Pushy parents – turning kids off sport?”

  1. Excellent post Jan. It’s not only in sport that parents can be too pushy – some children might be encouraged by such behaviour, most I tend to think, will not.

  2. Jan I agree, I never pushed my daughter into any sport. I encouraged her to do whatever she liked though.

    She did gymnastics, hockey, netball, swimming, football, table tennis, plus others and wanted to do them. won gold medals in many as part of a team and individually. The only thing I insisted on was that if she signed up for a course and I had to pay then she finished the course.

    Me I hated sports, only swam and cycled, much the same now. Football is boring, cricket slightly less so, rugby mediocre and so on.

  3. Child slavery in sport was prevalent in the Communist era in Europe and may still be in China. It’s just as reprehensible among so-called ‘normal’ families where over-ambitious parents cause untold misery and harm to their children – and not just in sports subjects. If they’re lucky the children have talents which can ‘repay’ their parents’ selfishness. If not, it’s a life of feeling inferior and resentful. Good post, Jan.

  4. Hi Boadicea – and quite negative as far as the child/parent relationship goes too.

    Rick, I like your style. Giving them opportunities is one thing and laudable. Pressuring and bullying them into continuing something they clearly don’t enjoy is quite another.

    It pains me to think how many non-footballing, non-rugby playing, non-hockey playing kids would actually enjoy being taught to cycle properly. There are some schools who offer it and inspire but there should be more.

    Ta, Janus. In some ways, I think the “pressured” home lives of some “normal” families these days means kids are under increased pressures to succeed – in sport and academically.

  5. Many years ago, the army (RMP) ran cycle proficiency classes in all the forces schools in BAOR with a certificate for those who passed the various tests.

  6. I’ve never actually understood why people encourage sport, what earthly use is it?
    It rarely makes any money, it does not improve anything for anyone and contributes absolutely nothing to the earth, total waste of time.
    Far better to teach a child how to compete at life and business.
    Exercise should be a recreation no more or less.
    I have always totally despised sports and the sheer waste of money organising silly competitions to see who can do this that or the other faster than the next.
    If you need to be aggressive, join the army and kill someone properly, don’t fuck about with it!
    Janh, had your family applied the same assiduity to making money or business as they have wasted on cycling up and down pointless hills they would no longer have to work for others!
    Creative exercise of one’s bank account is a far more productive ‘sport’!

  7. Hi Tocino – yup they still do cycling proficiency in primary schools but I suppose I’m talking the fun cycling stuff – mountainbiking, trials, racing – not just managing to get around on two wheels and signalling before turning.

    Exercise and sport isn’t a waste of time Tina. Training for a sport requires planning, hard work, personal discipline and time-management; some of the skills required to succeed in any walk of life. Moderate exercise is health-giving and taking part regularly in team sports has been shown to keep people healthier – physically and mentally.

    You have a tremendous nerve making assumptions about my family based on no evidence whatsoever but I like your style, so I’m not bothered. Here’s some evidence for you. Son no 2, the former racing cyclist, has two university degrees and is a lawyer working for an international law firm in Hong Kong. He expects his 2012 salary to run to six figures. Son no 1 is doing nicely owning his own company and earning enough to work for four months and take two off to see more of the world when he feels like it. Cycling and exercise, I feel, has not harmed them and in son no 2’s case, it definitely helped make him the person he is.

  8. Finding the right sport for each individual is the key: cycling and swimming are good exercise for life, in my humble opinion.
    Techie was a swimmer, but when they re-opened the pool after refurbishment they no longer offered the class for the ‘interested but never going to win medals’ group…. focusing on the stars. Seems wrong to me. I hope he returns to it, when he chooses to.

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