Tim Elmore, a leadership development sage who works frequently with Division 1 athletes, talks convincingly (and insightfully!) about parenting, Law, and the pressure on athletes to perform:
You may or may not believe this, but even in Division One athletics, parents stay engaged with their child’s sport, often at the same level they did through their growing up years. Moms will call coaches and advise them on how to encourage their daughter or son. Dads will call coaches and ask why their kid isn’t getting more playing time. Parents will call strength and conditioning coaches and inquire what they’re doing about their child’s torn ligament. Each of these calls is understandable. After all, no one has more at stake than the parent of a performer. They love their child, they’ve invested in their child and they want to see a “return on their investment.” Some athletes refer to their mom as their P.A. (personal assistant) or their agent. I know a mother who watches her collegiate daughter’s gymnastics practice behind the glass, all the while, calling and leaving voicemails for the coach on what should be done for her little girl. I even know sets of parents who moved into a condo across the street from their freshman athlete’s university. They didn’t want to miss a thing, and they certainly didn’t want to neglect to provide direction. I understand this. I am a father of two kids myself.
What we parents may not recognize is the pressure and angst this kind of involvement applies. May I tell you what student-athletes are telling me?…
“I feel like I’m never quite good enough; I can never fully please my parents…”
The current performancism, yes, extends to college interviews and even the highest levels of collegiate athletics, the parents’ need for vicarious justification through a child, and the paradoxical inability to tolerate any judgment whatsoever from a coach, while unintentionally exercising it themselves. Unsurprisingly, research supports the fact that the most helpful thing a parent can say is a simple statement of grace – “have fun” or “I love you.” And from the athletes’ perspectives,
College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response:
“I love to watch you play.”
That’s it. Those six words. How interesting. How liberating to the parent. How empowering to the student-athlete. No pressure. No correction. No judgment. (That’s the coach’s job). Just pure love of their child using their gift in competition.
When I learned this, I reflected on the years my own kids competed in sports, recitals, theatrical plays, and practices. Far too often, I wanted to play a role that added more stress to their life. Instead, I now realize—I just need to love them. And to love watching them play.