Recently I watched an HBO documentary that is now also available on Netflix. It’s called “The Trophy Kids”. First, I did not exactly know what I was getting myself into but after the first couple of minutes I started to realize that this might get intense for me. And indeed it did. It was like someone documented my biggest nightmares, my worst memories, my most powerful demons. The documentary is about sport-obsessed parents that want their kids to do well in sports and what kind of struggles and stress it creates for the kids. It perfectly captures the reality of overbearing parents constantly pushing their kids to run, hit, or shoot better, faster, and further. And once the kids manager to deliver, it still might not be enough, because the emotional and financial investment that those parents have put into their kids is still at stake. The scenes that have been captured in this documentary are so familiar to me that at one point or the other I just had uncomfortable goose bumps. I was all of a sudden back in the back seat of our car, on our ride back home from a lost match, listening to my dad saying all kinds of things. This documentary was so painful that I had to watch it in 10 minutes chunks.
This article was originally supposed to be about over-devoted parents who push their kids unbelievably hard to achieve some sort of athletic dreams and if there was a way to prevent that. Then I realized that this had already been covered. This subject, how psycho-sports parents are ruining kids’ lives has been covered by many journals and columns. And it has not changed a bit, it have actually gotten worse. The reality is that sports are getting more competitive and drives huge amount of money. It serves as a mean for getting scholarships to leading institutions and top universities. What I want to cover in this blog post is what to do ‘after’ this happens to you? To you, to me, to all of us who went at least at one point of their life through some sort of pressure made by their parents? While I’m not going to talk about widely accepted approaches like therapy, which is undoubtedly helpful in many ways, I would like to bring to attention some different perspectives that have helped me to understand and accept what happened five, ten or twenty years ago. First, you need to understand that your parents are human beings. With their own story.
My parents had me when my mother was nineteen and my father was eighteen. Raised in Slovakia, in socialistic regime, when everyone had everything but nothing at the same time. My father always wanted to be an ice hockey player, but since the sport was hard to finance and time- consuming my grandfather gave him a cheaper and less attractive alternative- wrestling. Understand that the sports environment in Eastern Europe back in the 80’s was like the Roman Empire in the first century. Cruel and Raw. If you did not come home bleeding you hadn’t trained enough. That was normal, accepted. The more pain, the better you performed, and if you made it, it means you could travel and “be free”. At least for a couple of weeks. But let’s not make this a historical fiction novel and get back to my father’s story. He was supposed to go to the Olympics trials but since his parents were never around he felt that it did not matter anyway and he just slowly started, day by day, to quit on his dream to achieve something. There was no authority that would push him enough to train or to keep him motivated.
“What are the acceptabe limits for parents in order to get their child to succeed?”
While I am not justifying any of those over-motivated parents out there, I think that there are various questions we have to ask. I’m a strong advocate of critical thinking and since my pals Plato and Socrates believed that things are often very different from what they appear to be and therefore we need to question everything, my questions are: What are the acceptable limits for parents in order to get their child to succeed? Should a parent let a kid give up if they want to or when things get difficult? Is it worth it to push the kids even though they are risking irreparable harm to their relationship with their children? Aren’t kids at age of five or six too young to decide if they want to be a top athlete given what it takes to get there? We can look into this issue taking two extremes into considerations. My dad’s experience and mine own. Two extremes of the same spectrum.
Parents could become obsessive and sadly some of them not only want success for their kids but also for themselves. They don’t want to admit that their kids are just not good enough, and even if they did want to , after taking a huge loan to pay for the practices and tournaments, it might be too late. Dear parents, I don’t want to ruin your dreams or your aspirations but why not to look into some hard data. According to scholarshipstats.com and many other reliable sources a little over 7 % of high school students get to play a varsity sport in college and only 2 % of high-schoolers get to play NCAA division I level. For specific sports please look at the reference list at the bottom. I know that rationale goes to the side when it comes to your “son” or “daughter” because they have the best predispositions and gene pool that they could ever have because they are yours, but that does not mean he or she is “the chosen one”.
On the other side of the coin, if I blame my father for my personal struggles, then I should be fair and also blame him for all of my blessings right? Without him yelling at me, would I have the same drive? Would I have the same drive for personal growth, for self-development, for making myself better each day? Probably not. It took me a while to look at it from this perspective, and to be fair, my dad was definitely not the worst nutcase.
“Two percent get to play NCAA division I level.”
So in conclusion my last advice to parents is to look objectively and to make a judgement whether the kid shows a huge potential. In order to make the best of this talent, get the kid into an academy or put him into an environment where he can receive professional coaching. If you have the financial means, of course, because putting all your money in one basket won’t make anyone happy. I know my father wanted the best for me, but he could only use his own story, knowledge, and experience as a reference point. Both of my parents unconditionally love me without me making it, which makes me an incredibly lucky kid. My relationship with my dad got better when I stopped playing tennis, naturally. Of course there are moments when I get unreasonably angry at him for telling me what to do, but what can I say? Ivan Pavlov’s research work on classical conditioning proves it all. We respond in a certain way to certain stimuli that we have associated other things with. I still don’t like to drive in the car with my dad and I probably never will. (Who does anyway?) But you move on and you better move on fast because life is short. According to my beloved Buddhism and its four noble truths: everyone goes through suffering. My dad, your dad. I’m not trying to give you a guide how to deal with your unreasonable anger towards your parents who wanted the best for you but did not know how, because you can google that shit. I’m just trying to give you a different perspective so YOU can be at peace with yourself.
The odds were against you, you tried you failed, the earth is still spinning and all you can do is learn from the mistakes of your parents and their parents and try to avoid it when (and if) you decide to have your own kids. You might not be the best parent out there, but like it said in“Finding Audry” by Sophie Kinsella: “We’re all on a jagged graph. Up a bit, down a bit. It’s all about climbing up, slipping down, and picking yourself up again. And it doesn’t matter if you slip down. As long as you’re kind of heading more or less upwards. That’s all you can hope for. More or less upwards.”
P.S.: Thank god, my parents don’t speak English. They would kill me for this article. But I don’t blame them…..dat Slavic temper. LOL