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.