Red Flags for Over-invested Sports Parents

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Red Flag #1: Merging with Your Child

In your zealousness to see your children find athletic success, you are in danger of becoming so involved in your children’s efforts that you may not distinguish between your own needs and those of your children. The University of Washington researcher Frank Smoll calls this the “reverse dependency trap” in which parents overidentify with their child’s experience and define their own self-worth based on the success of their children.

Sports may actually become more important to you than to your children. This excessive interest on your part, rather than promoting your children’s participation, undermines their interest by taking away their ownership of their sport. Your children may develop the perception that the sport is no longer theirs because you seem to be doing more than they are. In essence, you merge with your children in their athletic efforts.

Red Flag #2: Living Vicariously Through Your Children

One of the great joys of being a parent is sharing in your children’s achievements. Your excitement for their successes and your disappointment for their failures are a normal and healthy part of parenting. But sharing your children’s sports participation doesn’t mean living through them.

When you are living vicariously through your children, the focus is on you: your emotions, what the experience means to you, what you gain from it. When your children have good competitions, you feel that you have succeeded. When your children have bad competitions, you feel that you have failed. With living vicariously through your children, it is all about you.

Red Flag #3: Placing Your Happiness on Your Children’s Shoulders

Imagine the burden. Every time your children compete, your happiness is squarely on their shoulders. If they succeed, you will be happy. If they do poorly, you will be unhappy. Imagine the pressure your children will feel when they walk onto the field, course, or court. Your happiness is on the line and it is entirely on their shoulders!

The first red flag that might signal that you are placing your happiness on your children’s shoulders relates to the strength of your emotions compared to theirs. Are you more nervous before competitions than your children are, more excited when they succeed, and more disappointed when they don’t perform up to expectations?

Red Flag #4: Losing Perspective

Sports are seductive. Fame and fortune resulting from athletic success appear to be waiting for your children if only they have the talent and determination to reach that level. They could be the next Olympic champion or multi-million dollar “bonus baby.” This dream can cause them to lose perspective on sports’ intrinsic value of fun, life lessons, and life-long health

Red Flag #5: Overmatching Your Child

In your zealousness to encourage your children’s athletic development, you are in danger of pushing them harder and harder, even when they may not be prepared for the increased demands.The essential question: Why would you put your children in situations in which they are overmatched?

Dr. Benjamin Bloom, the author of Developing Talent in Young People, believes that pushing children too quickly up the development ladder will actually slow their progress. He describes the initial romance stage of development as emphasizing play, fun, and exploration. During this stage, children learn fundamental skills and develop a love for the achievement activity. Dr. Bloom found that rushing children through their development interfered with the emergence of these areas and left them with inadequate motivation and skills to be successful later in their development in their sport.


Note: This article is adapted from my first parenting book, Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child.

Dr. Jim Taylor is an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of sports performance. He has worked with professional, world-class, collegiate, and junior-elite athletes for 30 years and written eight books related to sport psychology. A former world-ranked alpine ski racer, he is a second-degree black belt in karate, marathon runner, and Ironman triathlete. To learn more, visit www.drjimtaylor.com.