Thursday, May 12, 2016
Parental influence done right -- supportive but not overbearing
By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
This is purely my opinion, with some observations on parental influence in
Toward the end of the school year, we gather with the athletic trainers and
coaching staff to see what worked and what didn¹t in terms of the health and
performance of our high school athletes. We do the same at the collegiate
and professional levels with one major difference: we generally don¹t have
much direct influence from parents at the collegiate and professional
But we most certainly do in high school. For better or worse (almost always
for the better) there will be parental influence in coaching and medical
recommendations. It¹s their right, and an involved parent is a very good
Influence Done Right: Focus on Development and Enjoyment
Over the years I¹ve noticed that some of the absolute best young athletes
who go on to have sports success through college or beyond have quiet and
somewhat laid-back parents.
I remember in particular one set of parents accompanying their daughter for
a discussion of issues with both of her shoulders. It was a complicated
issue, requiring her to have surgery on both shoulders followed by a
yearlong rehabilitation and no swimming.
Through it all the parents took it in stride, insisting that they would take
the long view. A few weeks in to her rehab the young lady showed me some
photos of her with winning times at various meets. Not age group meets, but
world-class international meets with adult Olympic athletes. And she had
three world records. I was astounded. I knew she was good -- but really,
really good? From her and her parents I never would have guessed.
Some of the most accomplished athletes I have seen have the least
overbearing parents. I get the feeling that these folks have seen a good
amount of success themselves and have a strong understanding of the long
view to succeed. Early focus on skill development, encouraging sport
experimentation, and handling ups and downs with equanimity. Parents who are
former professional athletes are almost always this way.
Messing With Success
And on the other end of the spectrum we seem to be seeing more parents who
are far too pushy of the coaching staff, the administration, and of their
own children. Maybe there are not actually more of these parents but they
sure are memorable.
There¹s probably a psychological term for this but basically I see them
living through their kids. Some admit to me that they have no personal
experience with sports in their own childhood, or even basic adult fitness.
In the exam room the parent often use phrases such as ³we hurt the knee last
weekend Š² or ³we worked incredibly hard last summer on training, how could
this happen to us?²
To be sure many of these kids achieve a high level of success when they¹re
very young. I¹ll always believe the parents have the best interests of their
child at heart, but an overbearing parental attitude seems like a surefire
way to mess with success.
In my 23 years in orthopedic practice I¹ve had a chance to see quite a few
of these kids over their entire childhood and teenage development years.
I¹ve often had the feeling that the kids are participating in certain sports
because their parents said they had to. Pleasing their parents is a powerful
motivator for the youngest kids but it becomes quite a drag in the teenage
years. Too many of these kids end up quitting their sport, after years of
development, because it¹s an easy way to rebel against a parent.
³Supportive but not overbearing² is a very tough path to choose especially
when there are so many pressures around to conform to community norms.
But who knows, maybe you too will end up with a daughter who becomes one of
the most celebrated athletes in Olympic history, as the parents of my young