Over the past 20 years or so, there has been a significant shift in the way our culture approaches parenthood. Gone are the days of corporal punishment and unconditional obedience to authority – which is undoubtedly a good thing. However, the pendulum has now swung the other way, giving birth to the phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” – a term coined by Foster Cline and Jim Fay in their 1990 book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility1 to describe parents who hover over their children, swooping in to rescue them whenever trouble arises.
Stories of sports parents behaving badly are all over the news. Surely, you’ve heard of the hockey dad who beat his son’s coach to death in front of the coach’s son and three sons of his own. Or the mother who hired a hitman to kill her daughter’s cheerleading nemesis’ mother. Or the father who bit off the ear of the opposing team’s coach at a sixth-grade basketball game. Coaches are finally getting fed up, and there has been a recent epidemic of high-profile coaches leaving successful programs to escape from unreasonable – even abusive – parents. The relationship between coaches and parents has become very adversarial, and the children are the losers.
These moms and dads may be the most visible symptom of a larger problem, but they hardly bear all the blame for the current state of affairs. American parents have become increasingly risk-averse and anxious to assign blame when something goes wrong. Not only are parents held morally responsible for their children’s mistakes, but they are now being held legally, even criminally, responsible. In an age of social media, mothers and fathers often feel that their parenting is on public display and people do not hesitate to judge them for their decisions from the most mundane (should my child be allowed to eat FD&C Green No. 3) to the most global (stay-at-home vs. working moms). Our society evaluates parents based on their children’s achievements: as one mom said, “My child is my report card.” 2
Entrepreneurs have been quick to capitalize on parents’ anxieties and insecurities. Marketing strategies often employ potential customers’ fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) to sell products, and parents are full of all three. From non-toxic strollers to Arabic immersion preschool prep classes to – let’s admit it – college hockey exposure camps, there is no shortage of opportunities for parents to feel like they have achieved a level of control over their children’s long-term achievement…for a fee.
When parents are receiving phone calls from five different clubs, each of whom claim to offer their player the best opportunity for a college scholarship or a chance to go pro, is it any wonder they are anxious? With hundreds of options for College Development Showcases, Elite Exposure Camps, and College Hockey Combines, shouldn’t we expect parents to feel overwhelmed? And when we bring players in the door by making promises we can’t possibly keep, why are we surprised when the parents end up angry and distrustful?
A 2014 study sought to identify coaches’ greatest sources of on-the-job joy and unhappiness.3 Not surprisingly, coaches cited “issues with parents” as their number one source of unhappiness. However, it may surprise you to learn that several coaches interviewed for this study cited “relationships with parents” as one of their greatest sources of joy. How did the researchers explain this paradox? Perhaps, they postulate, teaching coaches to “view parents in a different light could alter the tone and nature of some aspects of the coach-parent relationship (19).”
That is what the Parent Engagement Project is about. Our goal is to help change perceptions, build understanding, and teach skills that will help bridge the gap of understanding that exists between parents and coaches. We are all on the same team, and it’s time for us to start acting like it.
1 Cline, F., & Fay, J. (2006). Parenting with love and logic: teaching children responsibility. Colorado Springs, CO: Piñon Press.
2Ng, F. F., Pomerantz, E. M., & Deng, C. (2013). Why Are Chinese Mothers More Controlling Than American Mothers? Child Development, 85(1), 355-369. doi:10.1111/cdev.12102
3Baltzell, A. L., McCarthy, J. M., Ahktar, V. L., Hurley, D., Martin, I., & Bowman, C. (2014). High School Coaches’ Sources of Joy and Unhappiness. Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 6(3), 5-24.