Beware of the fog: there is a steep cliff ahead!
I fell off a cliff once. I was in the fog and didn’t even know it–I drove straight and I missed the turn signs. I have also seen and spoken with many other parents that crashed just like me. The funny thing is, now that my fog has cleared, we can see everything clearly.
It can be a devastating crash for some parents, but no one is talking about it. Why not and what is that cliff that I am referring to?
There is no physical harm that comes from this crash. The “cliff” I am referring to is that point in a young athlete’s journey when she tells you that she does not want to play in their sport in college. Or worse yet and like what happened to me, your child tells you they just don’t want to play any more at all. In some cases, it is just that point of realization that the athlete simply isn’t good enough to play at that next level. It usually happens around the sophomore or junior year in high school and comes as a result of many years of year-round training and play on club teams, several middle school and high school seasons, and everything else we threw at them to improve their strength, agility and skills.
When it happens, the parent can be crushed because they often don’t see it coming. They have dreams of their child having a great high school career, getting courted by college coaches, earning a scholarship and then finally playing at the college level. They become a BMOC or BWOC and are adored by the media and fans. The dream usually starts at a young age and parents typically have around 10 years, numerous weekend away from home staying in hotels, and thousands of dollars invested in this dream. At some point early on, the sport became more than a fun extracurricular for the for the child, it was a way of life for the entire family and took priority over most other things. It just takes over and happens without most realizing it. Those that do notice it happening can’t or don’t want to stop it. I like to call this the “Parent Fog” because it often blurs our vision to the other things that are important around us. It causes parents to put the gas pedal to the floor and race toward the goal, missing the warning signs, often even act irrationally, and eventually crashing off that proverbial cliff!
The high priority and elevated status placed on sports in our current society has changed everything. Professional athletes are (very rich) celebrities and heroes beyond the level ever seen before. High school and college athletes are essentially the same, but on a smaller scale. Those who have success in sports are viewed differently than those that have not. Right or wrong, that is the way it is and most parents want their children to be in that position.
My observation is and many experts have documented that it has progressed to a point where this pressure has caused many parents to relate the success of their child in sports to their own success as a parent. And it seems to happen without the parent knowing about it. It happens to the smartest and best people I know. Now that I am out of it, I can clearly recall situations where I fell into that trap. But when you are in the fog, you can’t see it.
How can you clear the fog? Here are some tips just based on my experiences.
- Align your goals. Make sure “the dream” is also the young athletes dream. A lot of kids don’t know what they really want, but start having the conversation with the athlete a young age. And keep having it. Let them know that there are different types of athletes. Some love it and want to play in college and maybe even professionally. Others like playing competitively and want to be the best they can be, but only really want to play in high school. They may not want to play in college. Another option is that some might just ultimately want to play on a recreational and social level. All are ok and the long term benefits to playing the team sport will be realized regardless of the path taken.
- Look for the passion. Do you ever see the child with the ball in their hands during those times at home when there is nothing planned and they have nothing to do? If not, then it is probably not their passion. The kids that play in college and make to to pros, are passionate about the game. They would play under any circumstance and during any free time they have. You can start to see this at a young age. If the passion is not there, that is a sign!
- Maximize the experience. When people stop having fun or feel like they are not growing and producing, they don’t like like what they are doing and want to quite. Define what it means to be successful in terms that are achievable. One way to do this is to emphasize that success is about working hard to improving themselves and the team every day. Define “success-based” goals in these terms because they can control them. Unlike “outcome-based” goals like making first-team all conference, becoming a starter, being named a captain, being the leading scorer, getting a college scholarship, etc. These are all good “outcome based” goals to set and work towards, but it is important to not define success solely based on these. The reason is that there are just too many external factors that are out of the athlete’s control that impacts them. Only five athletes can make first team all state in basketball. Are all the others that have that as a goal failures? Of course not. However, that is how they will feel if outcome based goals are emphasized as the measure of success and it will be a miserable experience when they realize it is not achievable..
- Keep your kid in the game. There are long term benefits that a child can get from playing team sports. Someday the ball will stop bouncing. Being able to drain a three pointer, crush a volleyball, or hit the upper 90 of soccer goal will be fun to tell stories about but will not matter a lot in the long run. What will matter is that they realize that they had to work hard to get good at that skill; they know how to be a good teammate; how to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat; how to be dedicated to something; how to respect all of those in the game like opponents, coaches, and even officials; how to productively and effectively communicate with others; how to be able to manage their emotions in stressful situations. and so on.
I hope this helps flip on the fog lights. I could have used this advice 12 years ago and my daughter agrees!