Recently, after one of my children's soccer tryouts, I was reminded by the over-reactions by some of the parents that for many of us our involvement with our kid's sports has become more than "just a game." Notice I said "us," as I am just a fellow struggler as a dad in this process. I have had four kids move through team soccer, baseball, football and basketball in the past several years. One thing I have noticed is that for us parents there just seems to be way too much energy expended around their sports achievements.
As I watch my kids play I find myself caring disproportionately as to how they do in sports compared to something that will probably be more determinative to their long term success in life, like their academics. Why this sports fixation? Even if I try to hide it with a "cool' exterior when I watch them play, what is it about sports that makes me as a dad get so emotional? And if our kids struggle in their performance, or if we perceive they aren't being treated fairly by the coach, why is it so hard to watch it happen without coming out of our seats?
I think we dads like to hold onto the fantasy that our kid will be the next great major leaguer or pro athlete, just as we may have fantasized about ourselves in our youth. This is "Fantasy Phase-2." For some of us, if our child has talent and the desire to play a sport at the college-level, we can rationalize that to hyper focus upon sports is a financial investment in their education, thereby increasing their chance to earn a college scholarship. But it would be interesting to compare and see if the money spent on the special camps, clinics, elite teams and travel to national tournaments does not surpass the money a student athlete realizes from any athletic scholarship help they may possibly receive.
For some talented athletes their dream does become a reality and that is just fine, BUT for so many of our kids the sports obsession is only a distraction and often becomes a detriment to their academic focus in school and their character development in life. It is for this reason that I have appreciated the coaches my kids have had who stressed character and doing well in school. They used the sport they coaches to help point my kids in a positive direction.
As far as dealing with this parental obsession problem, it has been helpful to me to understand what may be at work below the surface. Here are some considerations:
Is it the desire to see my child do what I couldn't do as an athlete so I can live through his/her accomplishments?
Is it the desire to relive the high I experienced as a youth in my athletic achievements?
Is it the false belief that for my child to be successful in life he/she must succeed in what I think is important (i.e., a particular sport)?
Maybe you do not have a problem in this area but try this out. According to Bruce Brown, parental sports expert, here are some hints that you may have a problem:
Do you find yourself screaming directions at your child at the top of your lungs?
Do you find yourself coaching your child on the field in direct conflict with the coach's instructions?
Do you find yourself getting so upset that it means more to you than it does to your child? (ouch!)
Do you find yourself starting to look to place the blame anywhere except on your child or on yourself when your child doesn't do well?
Men, ultimately our role is to lead our children as they grow in character in the short years we have them in our homes. For some of our kids that path may lead through involvement in the elite level of sports teams in high school and beyond. But for most of our kids, that will not be their path. We need to keep the big picture in mind and not get fixated upon a dream that may not be realistic or be meant for our child to aspire to. After all, it really IS just a game!