Parents are the most important figures in their children’s lives, especially during their formative years. They are examples, role models, points of reference and heroes. Children strive to impress their parents, whose validation they crave.
For these and many other reasons, a parent’s job as it relates to the formation of a young athlete is extremely delicate and difficult. A player’s parent needs to balance their responsibilities as parents, teachers and coaches, even if they are not their child’s official coach.
The parent-athlete relationship is a complex one, especially when the players are very young. Each parent knows that their young children constantly look to them for encouragement and validation, sometimes even on the court as they are busy playing.
Parents obviously want their children to succeed and be happy, and can therefore become very entangled in their children’s careers. It is an emotional dynamic that can often lead to much unhappiness on all sides. In order to maintain a good relationship with their children, it is important for parents to constantly look at themselves and their actions as objectively as possible.
Each decision they make is potentially important, and must be analyzed to ensure they are leading to the formation of a fulfilled young athlete, as well as a well-round human being. Perhaps the most important thing is that a parent does not seek to live vicariously through the success of their children.
When this happens, when parents become too involved and invested in their children playing well and winning, the results can potentially be very ugly. Indeed, it can destroy lives and careers. Professional tennis is littered with sad stories of parents who force their children to play tennis in order for their own dreams of glory to be satisfied.
Andre Agassi is a very famous example of this. Parents should always focus, above all, on the happiness of their children. Sport should be a fun activity, and the values of the sport itself should be celebrated. Too much emphasis should not be placed on winning at all costs.
Parents should help their children live fulfilling lives of their own, and not try and live second lives through the exploits and accomplishments of their children. The fundamental role of a parent in sport is very different from that of the coach, who has the task of promoting the athlete's growth and helping them achieve their full potential.
Parents must simply support the child whether the results are good or bad. When results on the court become entangled with affection off the court, things can only go badly. That is why parents so very often do not make good coaches.
It is almost impossible to properly execute both of these difficult roles at the same time. Always remember, be a parent first above all else!