“An infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured.”
Don’t you just love the diversity within a sports competition, not particularly among the players, but among the fans?! The stands are populated with people who bring different motivations, different dispositions, and different personalities. Like a jungle, you can often spot a variety of behaviors resembling formidable species such as lions, tigers and bears…oh my!
Focusing on the adults–in particular the parents of the participants–on display are distinctive traits that reveal their respective approaches to sports parenting. I have already confessed in previous posts that there were critical times during our youth sports journey when my own tiger behavior emerged, signaling my significant confusion and frustration over my proper role as a parent of young athletes. Please note that the sports tiger parenting approach is not the same as what Amy Chua is describing in her acclaimed book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. That is a different animal, with admirable qualities.
The sports parent who is tiger-like is characterized by traits similar to his jungle counterpart. He tends to be a loner, singularly focused on his own athlete, strategic in how to advantage his child above the others on the team, acting almost like a sports agent rather than a parent. He is likely to have goals apart from/prioritized above the team goals, and approaches his parenting with intensity and purpose. He/she may be loud, unsportsmanlike during failure or loss, laser-focused on the stats, often seen talking with his/her child apart from the team, or with the coach behind the scenes.
Tiger behavior has repercussions. At times the parent and the athlete are marginalized socially, and even their own relationship may become strained. The coach may indulge the additional conversations about the child, but often the tiger parent is eventually labeled as “one of those parents,” and even valuable input has diminished impact. Not to mention that those weakened relationships may not adequately support the athlete or parent when the season challenges intensify, and the inevitable disappointments and failures come. The fabric of the team and its greatest supporters, the parents, is weakened.
Perhaps the most deleterious, often unforeseen result of tiger behavior is the dependency it creates for the athlete upon his/her parent. It is so tempting to feel additional pressure when the parent is experienced and knowledgable–especially for those who themselves have excelled in the sport. Whether as a former athlete, a coach, or other expert, caution is needed in navigating the parent role. The irony is that with the best intentions one can contribute to inferior results. I have seen collegiate athletes, now parents, who feel the responsibility to impart their knowledge and experience to their child at the expense of the child’s personal growth. Intrinsic motivation is far superior to extrinsic and will sustain an athlete in his/her sport well beyond elementary levels of participation.
One contrast in parental approaches involves two gifted athletes, and two respective dads who had an abundance of knowledge about their sport. The first was a dad who had a huge impact from the stands on his child when he competed. He would both coach and motivate. When things went well, there was exhilarating excitement from both player and parent, and a palpable sense of pride. When the dad had to miss a contest, the athlete underperformed and was deflated in the outcome. The second dad, was content to be in the background, although his accomplishments included a successful sports career at the highest level. He was approachable but did not impose himself on coaches. When asked he was gracious to contribute his knowledge, but otherwise came across as unusually “chill,” considering his vast expertise. I truly believe that his approach increased the probability of an enhanced sports experience for his son, as well as a fulfilling father-son relationship. This dad’s prior view from the mountaintop perhaps gave him the wisdom to keep things in proper perspective for his son’s sports experience.
Don’t forget that sports are meant to be enjoyed as they educate and enhance your child’s life. In my next post we will examine a better choice of approach in sports parenting, the lion.
Immersed in youth sports as an athlete, a mom, a coach, and an athletic administrator, it's my deep desire to encourage parents as they encounter all the "fun challenges" of their children's youth sports journeys. By the way, all the members of my clan played sports in college and beyond, most likely in spite of my parenting strategies. However, I will admit to my own missteps, so that you won't have to learn the key to real youth sports success the hard way as I did. Every child can be successful!
View all posts by Betty Ann Santi