Raising Stars Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters and a slew of today’s sports stars have had the parental push. But pushing your child to be a super athlete may have damaging effects. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
Some of the best athletes in the world were pushed by their parents.
Remember all those things you didn’t get quite right when you were growing up? We all remember the missed opportunities, the let downs and the disappointments. Did you ever think you’d have the chance to go back in time and correct them?
Guess what? You can! Well, kind of, anyway. You see, when parents have children, either consciously or unconsciously, they project onto these children the dreams and hopes that they may have had for themselves. Sometimes, the guy that could never get a date wants his kid to be smooth with the ladies. The woman whose mother fed her tons of junk food now serves only macrobiotic meals to her daughter. The person who never paid enough attention to school now demands his children study hard every day. In all these cases, the parents may be asking their child to do something that will clearly benefit him or her later on in life.
Parents who push their children into high degrees of athleticism are no different. They may look at their own past and see missed opportunities. They may recall a history of their own lack of discipline (common to most youths) and believe their children will succeed better if they can avoid their mistakes. Trying to get a child to the next level is a natural desire of any parent.
In most cases of early-aged competitive sports, there’s a delicate dance that takes place between a parent and child. Generally, the child must have a natural inclination or interest in the sport for the training to begin. The parent must have the financial resources and must recognize the child's desire to get to the next level. Then, more than likely, the child’s natural interest may begin to wane as he or she feels more and more pressure to succeed, and have less time to spend with his friends. From there, a parent who may "know better" what a child needs, may start to push.
If it weren’t for "pushy" parents, we may never have seen great athletes like Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, or name-your-favorite-Olympic-gymnast. But for every great athlete whose name we recognize, there are hundreds who burn out, get injured or just never rise to the next level.
In some cases, pushing a child past the point where he or she wants to quit a sport is a way of teaching perseverance and can teach valuable life lessons. In some cases, it can lead to monumental stress and demoralize your child, particularly if he or she doesn’t win or gets injured.
Either way, keep these guidelines in mind:
Nurture your child’s dreams—not yours. Spend time getting to know what turns your child on before choosing a sport for them.
Provide constructive feedback to your child; don’t belittle or shame them.
Don’t attempt to coach your child beyond your own knowledge level; when your child moves to the next level, find coaches who know what they’re doing and let them take the lead.
The underlying values of sportsmanship, self-control and discipline are paramount. Demonstrate these qualities in yourself and your child will pick them up.
It’s possible to have fun and learn at the same time. Be creative about finding ways to keep your child’s interest levels high as you help him master his or her sport.
Parenting is a great opportunity to re-experience your own childhood. You have many lessons to teach your children. When decisions about getting them involved in sports is done with love, respect and understanding, everyone gains from the experience.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com