A Direct Reflection of Your Parenting

Sep 14, 2017 10:43 PM
Posted by Mike Macri

Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are. But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and tries their best IS a direct reflection of your parenting

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The hard-fought contest ends with both teams better for the battle. Handshakes, hugs and tears mark the poignant scene on the field. Players and coaches disperse. The longtime volunteer assistant and his eldest son meet for their ritual de-brief walk back to the Athletic Center. 

Without warning, a husband and wife rush upon them with harsh intent. The couple tag-team the coach. They take turns hurling crude, personal insults surrounding the topic of their child’s playing time. The assistant’s son gets his body between the revenge seekers and his dad, ushers him to safety before an ugly situation gets worse. 

This disheartening event did not take place at a Pop Warner, Little League or Mighty Mites hockey game, but at a celebrated lacrosse high school on behalf of a young man who’s old enough to vote and serve his country. Similar episodes involving parents, high school and college coaches have increased across the country in the last 10 years. 

For generations, we have seen emotional adults “protect” their little ones from perceived injustices at the youngest levels. Oversized opponents, nearsighted umpires and preferential minutes from coaches/fathers have all drawn ire from concerned loved ones. Consequently, youth sports organizations long ago mandated codes of conduct for players and parents alike. 

The red flags from Pee Wees have migrated up to older children and expanded beyond fields, gyms and rinks. Whether a parent protests a kid’s poor marks to a principal, demands a re-do on a university’s award of a competitive research grant or lobbies a superintendent to remove a football coach, more mothers and fathers are inserting themselves into situations better handled by their offspring directly. 

“Helicopter” has begotten “Bulldozer” as committed, well-intentioned folks attempt to secure a stress- and failure-free life for their children. Many administrators enable this cycle by choosing the path least likely to result in lawsuit. To many teachers, coaches or mentors with decades of service, today feels like a tipping point. 

At least two critical questions arise from examining this syndrome. Are we truly preparing the next generation for health, happiness and the tools for success? And are we driving many of our most devoted educators out of their professions? 

This spring, a highly decorated girls basketball coach in Maine chose resignation over fighting to make her bosses enforce the school district’s “Parent/Staff Communication Policy.” In her nine years, she found most parents generously supportive. A small number of disgruntled complainers convinced her to step away from the work and students she loved. 

Citing similar cases across the state, veteran local sportscaster Lee Goldberg issued a blistering commentary, “When parents take things too far and coaches pay.” He could not imagine his or his teammates’ elders acting this way in his playing days. A father of high school athletes, Goldberg ends by hoping “this stops soon before nobody wants to coach our kids.” 

A string of natural consequences occur when adults take ownership of children’s team responsibilities, grades and job interviews. It helps create the expectation that “someone else will take care of this for me” that young people may apply to other aspects of their lives. The attitude swiftly generalizes. Kids tend to blame others for any prize not won, rather than reflect on what could have been done differently. They rationalize instead of taking accountability. The accompanying belief that any disappointment can be fixed if one yells loudly enough to the proper powerful authority imbues developing minds with an unhealthy view of what they can and cannot control. It also implies that losing has no positive benefit and generates a desire for immediate gratification that is not always appropriate. 

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, a Fortune 500 executive describes how these traits impact the capacity of young employees to do their jobs. He finds diminished interpersonal skills, an inability to cope with negative outcomes and requests for rapid pay raises that do not match professional performance. In our exuberant efforts to advocate for our sons and daughters, we may be keeping them from honing essential life skills. 

The Program’s Eric Kapitulik once started his Judgment Day presentation with a tale of his struggle against a bigger, faster, more talented Terry Riordan. The smaller Navy defender confessed to employing every clutch, trip and illegal hack to deter his superior Hopkins foe. On the game’s final play, Kapitulik ran too long with the rock, allowing Riordan to catch him and check the ball away. Kapitulik’s mother ran to console her son asking, “How could they let that big goon do that to you?!” Coach Meade viewed the same scenario, pulled his player close and commanded forcefully, “You should have passed the damn ball!” Kapitulik finishes the cautionary tale by saying, “Our parents love us too much to be objective about our athletic ability.” 

Parents should be grateful for coaches who strive to push their children farther than their affection allows. Rather than jumping into these teachable moments, parents should encourage our progeny to find their own voices and solutions. Failure is allowed and important.

All parents want the same things for our offspring. To help them become courageous, independent, free-thinking, responsible adults. To celebrate their greatest achievements and process their most stunning disappointments with equal grace. We want everyone’s sons and daughters to carry the confidence that comes with genuine self-reliance. 

A youth baseball sign that circulated through college lacrosse coaching circles this summer expresses this beautifully: 

“Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are. But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and tries their best IS a direct reflection of your parenting.” 

Our children will thank us.

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