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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

Celebration Time

Susan Boyd

The clock is ticking down. With determination and sheer will, the ball ricochets off one player to the next until a player — knowing that time is nearly gone — strikes the ball with blind hope. In legendary “he shoots, he scores” fashion, it sails past the keeper and into the back of the net. The celebration erupts. Players pile on the scorer, and the fans go crazy.             

We’ve witnessed this scenario play out in every sport. Auburn did it to Alabama this season in football, retrieving the ball in the end zone after Alabama’s field goal attempt fell short, then running it back for a game winning touchdown as time expired. Baseball fans love a walk-off home run and love a walk-off grand slam even more. The first post-season walk-off grand slam didn’t happen until October of 2011 when Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers hammered one out against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series. In August 2007, Georgia won with a walk-off home run against Japan in the Little League World Series. In each of these triumphs there was an eruption of joy from fans and fellow players. In other cases, the last second victory takes a bit longer to evolve. Take for example, a first round match at the 2010 Wimbledon tournament. American John Isner met French qualifier Nicolas Mahut in a contest that wasn’t considered worthy of being broadcast until it promised an unprecedented match length of 11 hours and five minutes stretching out over three days. The match began at 6:30 p.m. on June 22. The third and fourth sets went to tie breakers, bringing play to a halt due to darkness before the fifth set could begin. When the match resumed, the eyes of the world were on a pair of battling players. The fifth set began at 2:05 p.m. on June 23 and as the set evolved into another long tie breaker at 59-59, it had to once again be suspended due to darkness. They continued on June 24 and drove the score to 68-69 in favor of Isner. Then, with a passing shot, Isner secured the necessary two point margin to win the tie breaker 70-68, the fifth set and the match. Isner collapsed to the ground and Mahut seemed genuinely glad, despite his loss, to have the trial ended. These squeaker victories encourage wild and rough celebrations by players and prompt spectators to surge onto the field of play to congratulate their team or player and to share in the emotional moment in a stampede of joy.              

Sometimes in the course of a celebration, disaster can strike. Just this September, Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell leaped to chest bump Todd Gurley after the latter scored a 75-yard touchdown against rival Clemson. Mitchell landed awkwardly after his leap and ended up with a season-ending ACL tear. Rafael Nadal leapt over the net during a practice match for the 2004 Roland Garros tournament, tripped and injured himself enough to have to withdraw from the event. That same year, tennis player James Blake caught his foot on the clay surface, lurched forward into the net post and broke his neck. Despite the rough guy reputation of hockey, Ryan O’Reilly was injured by a hug. Just last week the Colorado Avalanche player was celebrating a goal with his teammates. During the group hug his shoulder became dislocated, and he had to leave the ice missing the rest of the game and the next one. Soccer isn’t immune to celebration injuries. After Steve Morrow scored the game winner for Arsenal in the League Cup final against Sheffield in August 1993, teammate Tony Adams lifted him up in celebration and broke Morrow’s arm. Morrow was out for the rest of the season, including Arsenal’s FA Cup victory that year. In 2010, Kendry Morales of the Angels hit a 10th-inning walk-off grand slam against the Dodgers. The exuberant team rushed to home plate to congratulate their hero and celebrate their win. The ensuing dog pile quickly turned from joy to concern as Morales’ lower left leg suffered a season ending fracture due to players falling all over him after he landing awkwardly.             

Injury shouldn’t be a reason to stifle celebration as those injuries are rare. We do see fewer tennis players leaping over the net as they consider the possibility of catching a toe or foot on the fly. But players will continue to do their chest bumps and the even more risky head butts following a great score or tackle. Baseball players still pile on when a contest is won by a teammate’s great hit or strong defensive play. Players throw their shirts, shoes, sticks, balls and helmets as they experience the exuberance of a victory. While a celebration can result in injury, everyone seems to take it in stride as an unusual but not unheard of outcome from the physicality of these fetes.               

That is until a few weeks ago. A Little League coach has sued one of his players for injuring him during a celebration. The Sacramento area team needed one run to win their game. The runner rushing towards home plate realized he would score the game winner and couldn’t contain his enthusiasm any longer. As he crossed the plate, he threw off his batting helmet. Apparently the helmet bounced off the ground and then struck the coach in the heel rupturing his Achilles tendon. In most reports, doctors agree that the bouncing helmet wouldn’t have caused the injury, although moving to avoid the helmet and turning his ankle in the process probably snapped the tendon. Nevertheless, the coach felt his injury was entirely due to the player’s actions and filed a lawsuit two weeks ago asking for $100,000 for medical costs and lost wages and $500,000 in punitive damages for pain and suffering. When he was served, the boy’s father at first thought the suit was a joke but quickly discovered the coach meant business. I suspect that a clever lawyer found out the family’s home owner’s insurance allowed for exactly the amounts in the suit for a plaintiff. In a sense, the excuse will be that only the insurance company will suffer. But naturally that won’t be the case. The costs will be passed on in the form of higher premiums for the family and other insured. Possibly, the family will have their policy canceled and be unable to secure a new policy putting their mortgage in jeopardy. Even if the boy’s family should win the case, they would have been put under the financial stress of paying for an attorney and the emotional stress of dealing with a trial. I can’t even begin to think how much guilt this young player will feel if his family suffers some form of financial consequences due to his actions. I’m also certain that any joy he found in playing baseball has been sucked out of him.              

I’m not unsympathetic to people suffering medical problems at the hands of others. Two summers ago, I contracted a rare bacteria at an expensive seafood restaurant. I suffered from a serious loss of fluids leading to extremely low potassium far below that which can cause the heart to seize up. Luckily, I got great care and survived with no ill effects. My health insurance covered all my hospital costs and the doctors’ care, so I had no out of pocket expenses. The recuperation also kept me from returning to teaching that fall semester. But I made the decision just to be sure that this restaurant improved its hygiene and acknowledged that it had created the situation so that future patrons would be protected. I do think people can be made “whole” without going to excess. If this coach had out of pocket medical expenses, it might not be unreasonable for the boys’ family to cover those if it can be established that there was a direct link between the toss of the helmet and the injury. More than that is, as the boy’s father said, “absurd.”              

Beyond the issue of the injury, I take another exception to this lawsuit from a coach. When people agree to the position, whether volunteer or paid, they are accepting the job of being mentors and role models. Teachers, coaches and caretakers experience some form of abuse during their careers and occasionally are injured, yet few will sue the kids seeking some windfall from these circumstances. They understand that part of the job includes some minor risks. This coach could just as easily have slipped while teaching a drill spraining his ankle, or breaking his leg, or tearing his Achilles’ tendon. I would expect a coach to put this incident in perspective and look to the more significant moral role he should be playing. There was no intent or belligerence. This player didn’t attack the coach because he was angry about playing time or the coach’s style. He was a 12-year-old caught up in a moment where he felt suddenly significant. I’m certain that when he realized the coach was injured he felt terrible in sudden, huge emotional nosedive. A good coach would recognize that he or she needs to bolster a child in that circumstance. The coach is the adult who by the nature of his or her commitment has agreed to be a teacher, not just of the sport but of life’s lessons.             

The injury was definitely painful as anyone who has had an Achilles’ tendon rupture knows. But it’s not a life-threatening injury and has a good long-term outcome after healing. I understand that we don’t know all the facts in this case, but the excessive amount asked for in the suit doesn’t lend itself to a positive point of view from outsiders. I’m worried that if this coach wins anything more than unreimbursed medical expenses that it will set a serious precedent for further suits by coaches, referees, fellow players and spectators. We’ve watched basketball players who crash into photographers, cheerleaders and fans behind the basket, sometimes causing physical damage and property loss. The same holds true on the sidelines with football players and soccer players sliding into team benches and referees. Baseball players regularly send line drive foul balls into the stands occasionally striking a fan. Pitchers can seriously injure a batter with a misplaced throw. We don’t even need a celebration to have injuries occur during a game that are accidental. But when these injuries come as a result of a celebration we need to take a step back and view them in the light of good spirits and unintentional fallout. I fault this coach for not taking his role seriously enough to overlook a possible financial bonanza from his player in favor of making this a teachable moment of forgiveness. He could have asked and expected the player to apologize and offer support like volunteering to mow the coach’s lawn until he can get around on his own. Celebrations should be a way to validate a player’s and team’s performance, giving them a sense of self-worth and pride. They also should be a way to teach players to learn humility in victory. But they shouldn’t turn into a lesson in crass materialism. I don’t see that behavior as anything to celebrate.

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For All the Right Reasons

Susan Boyd

Lionel Messi returned last week to playing soccer after a torn muscle sidelined him for two months. This was his third injury of the season and fifth in 2013. At just 26 years old, Messi has suffered through several torn muscles and hamstring injuries. Nevertheless, his accolades continue to pile up. This year, he became the first player to score four hat tricks in the Champions League, and he has scored 24 hat tricks in his career. He has scored the most away goals in league history. He may be the best player ever, and he will certainly be in the top 10 no matter when his career ends. He plays for FC Barcelona, but he is Argentinian and led the Argentine national team to an Olympic gold in 2008. His list of individual honors totals 101 between 2005 and the present, meaning he averaged 14.5 awards a year. That list doesn’t include 28 team league victories in La Liga, the Olympics, Copa America, Copa del Rey, UEFA Champions League, and several others. His contributions to his teams in particular and the popularity of soccer in general can be measured both in boosting fan interest and the incumbent financial benefits for his clubs and opposing clubs. Barcelona’s investment in the player (as legend has it, sealed with a contract written hastily on a napkin) when he was just 13 has been repaid a hundred-fold.             

So how did he come to play for Barcelona as a youth player? Messi had been clearly identified as one of the best youth players in Argentina by age 8. Argentina’s powerhouse club River Plata took an interest in him. However, it soon became obvious that Messi was lagging behind his peers in growth and size. While soccer definitely offers opportunities for smaller players, clubs often shy away from them. When he was diagnosed at age 11 with growth hormone deficiency, his parents made the decision to embark on nightly hormone injections. The therapy soon strapped the family financially. They asked River Plata to take on the expense as part of their investment should they sign Messi as a youth player, but the club refused. Through relatives in Spain, the family made overtures to teams there, and FC Barcelona agreed to take the young player on and pay for his hormone treatment. Even with the growth hormones, Messi grew to just 5-foot-6, not necessarily small for a professional soccer player, but certainly smaller than most. Nevertheless, he proved to be a tenacious and skilled striker. What plagued him were injuries.              

Weak muscles and thin bones are common in children diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency, so in general the treatment improves both muscular and skeletal conditions. The treatment stimulates the liver to release a second hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Together, growth hormone and IGF-1 tell the bones, muscle and tissue to grow by adding more cells. This results in bones that are strong and long and can increase a player’s size up to 2-3 inches a year until the end of puberty. The known adverse effects are a possible increased risk to develop diabetes, stimulating already existing cancers to grow dangerously, and to expedite colon-rectal cancer later in life. Studies on what happens to rapidly growing muscles and bone growth plates have not established a link with serious injuries. In fact, without the treatment children can suffer with thin, weak bones as they move into adulthood. Because levels of human growth hormone fade as we grow older (because we are done growing!), some people believe that increasing the levels in adulthood can delay the aging process. Despite no proof, many adults use it for that purpose, while other adults use the hormones to help muscle development and definition. These are not approved uses.              

Overall, Messi just seems to be prone to injury. But those injuries, while keeping him sidelined for a period of time, heal, and he comes back with the same skills and power he had before the injury. The question is will those injuries eventually catch up to him. At 26, he has the injury history of older players with a longer playing career than he has had. In 2013, he suffered through five injuries of which four related to his hamstring. His latest injury was a torn muscle.           

My youngest son always measured in the lower 5 percent on the growth charts, but he eventually grew to be as tall as Messi without the addition of growth hormone therapy. My husband was 4-foot-8 when he entered high school and grew two inches after we got married. His short stature kept him from playing the high school sport he most wanted to play, baseball, but he found a niche in wrestling, although each year he had to change weight classes as he slowly grew. Robbie is adopted, so he didn’t get his abbreviated height from our genes, and his half-brother is 6-foot-3, so genetically tall growth was possible. They both had the same birth mother who was only 5-foot-3. We never even considered having Robbie tested for growth hormone deficiency, and I suspect he never had the condition. But as parents we often need to consider the issue when faced with an athletic child who doesn’t seem to be sprouting. In this age of hormone abuse by athletes, growth hormone therapy for children falls in a completely different realm of empowerment. On the other hand, parents must be cautious about wanting to improve their child’s chances of competing in sports at the teen years and beyond by subjecting them to a treatment they may not need. The condition should be carefully tested for and evaluated by an endocrinologist since the child must endure daily shots for possibly as long as four years.              

Some people have accused FC Barcelona and Messi’s parents of attempting to create a “super-athlete” by having Messi treated. Since none of us are privy to his medical records, we can only hope that the treatment was appropriately prescribed for an actual condition. However, I do know of parents who have consulted doctors that they hoped would agree to the treatment, even using some bullying techniques to ensure it for their child. The thin line between necessary treatment and desired treatment can easily be crossed by zealous parents and coaches, especially when a child shows promise in a sport. Treatment for growth issues can be and has been done with anabolic steroids, a serious and potentially dangerous decision for any child. In addition, insulin has also been used to stimulate growth. With some diligent doctor hopping, parents can always find someone to prescribe questionable treatments. Therefore, it’s important to keep things in perspective. If a child is growing slowly, like my husband, and an endocrinologist says her growth is normal, no parent is doing their child a favor by insisting that something be done to speed up or augment that growth. Even though slow growth can prevent some kids from participating in certain sports, we sometimes just have to accept that our child isn’t going to be that athlete we had hoped for. The world is made up of so many other wonderful professions and skills, we can’t just fixate on sports.            

While medical solutions can be drastic steps which most of us wouldn’t even contemplate unless clearly indicated, we can consider other ways to boost our child’s abilities.  Good nutrition would be an admirable option to help our child achieve his optimal performance, but again we have to avoid zealousness that leads us to rely heavily on supplements and vitamin regimens that haven’t been proven to be either beneficial or even safe. No one regulates these supplements. In April, the FDA issued a warning that several nutritional supplements contained dimethylamylamine or DMAA, which is a stimulant and causes rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure and even heart attacks. You can actually overdose on vitamins and minerals, especially since so many foods are now enhanced with things like calcium and vitamin C.  You may take a safe dose of a vitamin in the morning, but because your cereal, juices, yogurts, and other foods have boosted their vitamin and mineral content, you could be giving yourself or your child toxic levels of these. Even more worrisome is how some supplements can interact with prescription drugs in a dangerous way. “All natural” isn’t always “all safe;” arsenic and digitalis are also natural products. We can also provide extra condition training for our children. Again we need to be cautious. Training should be age appropriate for the musculo-skeletal developmental level of the child and shouldn’t be over-strenuous. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments need time to relax after any workout. Keeping them in a constant state of exercise can cause tremendous and, on occasion, irreparable damage, certainly not the result anyone is looking for. Find an educated and credentialed trainer, not just someone at the gym with a great physique and a loud voice. Be watchful for signs of stress on joints, muscles and tendons. Always have a medical physical before augmenting any sport activity and get your physician’s approval for the program you’ve selected for your child.

While Messi adds to his string of honors, he also adds to his hamstring problems. Most likely his growth hormone treatment helped to make him taller, but more importantly improved his bone and muscle strength. Without the treatment, he might well have already had a career-ending injury. For some children, medicine can promise a stronger body and a healthier life. As parents, if we suspect some insufficiency in our child’s well-being, we need to seek out the best medical, nutritional, and physical help we can find.  What we shouldn’t do is pin our hopes for a superior athletic child on any treatment. Instead we should simply be looking to improve the child’s health. Messi was an amazing player before his treatments, and for all we know may have been just as amazing without the treatments. The problem is there is no way of knowing unless we can borrow Mr. Peabody’s Way Back machine and replay history without growth hormones. Therefore, we must pursue what is right for our child based solely on sound medical reasons and advice, not on our dreams of her becoming a stronger competitor. Messi may eventually be completely incapacitated by his injuries, but he was given an opportunity to overcome a serious medical condition and, for whatever period of time, shine.

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No Strings Attached

Susan Boyd

There’s a sweet, unexpected moment in the film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." The scene doesn’t move the plot ahead. The characters’ decision to take part in the scene reveals something about their characters, the actual scene itself doesn’t. It’s one of those instances that might easily have ended up on the cutting room floor. However, for a beautiful two minutes the scene plays out, and as a soccer mom, it touched me deeply.
               
Walter, a photo editor at Life magazine, had been searching for a photographer, who may or may not know what happened to a negative he supposedly sent to Walter as the cover shot for Life’s last issue. Mitty’s journey takes him to several treacherous and unusual locations. Eventually his travels extend high into the Himalayas where he makes an important and remarkable discovery. While that revelation unfolds, the camera cuts intermittently to a youth soccer game in the valley below. The audience can hear the shouts, cheers and laughter over the actors’ voices in the scene. When Walter realizes he has once again been thwarted in his quest, the characters make the decision to run down the mountainside and join the game. That carefree decision would normally have been enough for any filmmaker. It shows that in the face of adversity, Walter can still seize some joy. There would be no need to actually show the characters playing in the game. Yet, Ben Stiller, the director and star, creates a beautiful scene bathed in the warm glow of a setting sun against the wild green of tundra, the colorful clothing of the participants, the flags used to mark the goals, and the rough greys and whites of the peaks. The camera lingers on the play while exposing the joy of the game richly depicted in several vignettes.
               
These players will never play on a club team, much less a state, regional or national team. The game will never earn them a living or garner them public honors. They don’t have state-of-the-art equipment, no uniforms to distinguish their allegiances, and no crowds cheering them on. With no buildings in sight, it was obvious that these boys had gathered to play on a wild expanse of grass without expectations. The young players welcomed the strangers from the mountainside willingly and happily. This game had no other purpose than the exhilaration of play. 
               
I loved this scene because it said volumes about youth sports. In the U.S., we have ended up corrupting the original purpose of kids playing in organized sports. Rather than being about enjoying the moment, youth sports have become stepping stones to more serious, competitive levels. National sports organizations look to identify players who can function at an elite level. What parents don’t foster the hope that their child will make that cut? When our boys first started playing soccer, I was completely naïve about anything beyond the yearly sign-up for recreational soccer. The biggest stress was insuring that we registered our kids together so we could carpool to the same team and practices. All too quickly the promise of traveling teams and other elite opportunities became the focus. The fun of the sport gave way to where the sport could take our children: state teams, high school, regional teams, even national teams, and of course the strong siren song of college soccer. Clubs offer training to "get to the next level" with a not too subtle message that achieving that level should be why our children play. Parents begin to invest more and more into the possibility that their child will win the golden ticket with their help. We pay for camps, extra fitness training, top clubs, tournaments, indoor sessions and even overseas opportunities. Instead of the wild abandon of the young child gleefully running on the grass, we now have the business of soccer with all the constraints of protecting and nurturing an investment. While I don’t suggest that our children shouldn’t improve over the years and that their passions shouldn’t be fed, I do suggest that we may go overboard, forgetting that most children won’t become the elite athletes we envision. Yet we persist in making the sport more of a job than a pleasurable activity.
               
I would love for this short scene in the film to be on YouTube, and perhaps soon it will be. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to see the entire movie, I really encourage you to watch that one particular clip. It renewed in me the deep love I have for soccer. It is a sport so universal that even in the Himalayas a group of soccer-playing Sherpas could assimilate a pair of all-American interlopers. The scene spoke to me because it revealed not only the deep joyfulness of play but the message that adventure isn’t always about extremes. We can appreciate unexceptional events as exceptional when showcased against the backdrop of a surprising location. Soccer is a language we can speak anywhere in the world and be fully understood. Soccer creates for our children a world-view activity in which they can flourish and cultivate happiness without any other expectations than having fun. I can only speculate why Stiller left this scene in his film. Mitty’s life was either primarily hum-drum or newly filled with daring and extreme adventure. Playing soccer highlighted that something ordinary can translate into a moment of abandon and ecstasy, giving his and anyone’s life the balance they are missing. It reminds us that the simplest and most commonplace of activities can bring the greatest joy, whether it be taking a walk during a fresh snowfall, roasting marshmallows on a fall evening or playing a game of soccer. If we can provide our children with the uncomplicated delicious pleasures of just experiencing a moment then we have given them the gift of happiness — no strings attached.

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Creating the Perfect Athlete

Susan Boyd

A film maker and two doctors approached the subject of parents looking to create exceptional children through training, discipline and sheer force of desire. Beginning the discussion was Peter Berg, who directed the film "Friday Night Lights." His first topic on his sports-related documentary series "State of Play" on HBO was titled "Trophy Kids." He looked at four parents and five kids across the sports of football, basketball, golf and tennis. The one-hour program was difficult to watch, showcasing overbearing parents pressuring their kids to aspire to the highest pinnacle of their sports. What we have regarded as stereotypes of Type A parenting played out over that hour to a frightening level. A father swore unrelentingly at the referees and blamed many of his child’s basketball losses on the "95 percent of lousy officiating." The father of a 10-year-old golfer questioned officials on the legality of undue help he felt other parents were giving their children during a tournament and cursed at his daughter under his breath when she failed to make the green. She probably didn’t hear the word, but she certainly got the message through his vocalizations and body language. At one point he accused her of embarrassing him and threatened to "slap her across the face" if she didn’t do what he demanded. A football father berated his son after every game for all his failings and for not being in the coach’s face to find out why he was benched. He generated his own before-school practices for his son and then yanked him around by his gear to get him to do what he wanted. A mother felt her two tennis sons had a talent given to them by God that she had a covenant to develop. She believed they would be the best doubles players ever because they were ordained by God to prove His power.
               
What was most telling was the follow-up the filmmaker had four months after the primary filming. We learn the basketball player’s father readily admits that he could probably "have bought two Lamborghinis" based on what he spent on privately training his son. The goal was a Division I basketball scholarship, however, the offer he received was a five-year scholarship with a Division II school. The golfing daughter finally won a tournament where parents were not allowed on the course, but she still had not procured a sponsor even though players much younger already had. The football player left his father’s home in Los Angeles and moved in with his mother in Seattle because, as he said, "My dad wasn’t a dad; he was a coach." The tennis players entered high school, tried out for the team and were put on the J.V. squad. All of those footnotes highlighted that what the parents saw in their kids was rarely the reality of their talent. The basketball player was skilled at three point shots, but that alone couldn’t sustain him at the next level where defense, team work and speed on the court have equal importance. The football player was a tentative athlete at best and would probably never move beyond high school no matter how driven his father was. The young man just didn’t have the heart of an elite athlete and certainly lacked many of the necessary skills. The tennis players, despite tons of extra practice, hadn’t risen to the level of exceptional. As a golfer, the young woman in the film had determination and some apparent skills, but she was still overshadowed by players two or three years younger, which did not bode well for her future at the top level of the sport.
               
The saddest part of the documentary was the lack of evident love and pride from these parents towards their children. The golfer’s father admitted in a voice-over that he was tremendously proud of his daughter and what she had achieved thus far, but he couldn’t let her know – not until "they" had accomplished the goals necessary to put her on top – because it would undercut her development. Mom couldn’t praise her sons because their tennis skills came not from them but from God. They didn’t deserve the honor. All his father could muster toward the football player was screaming at his son that if he didn’t love him he wouldn’t care at all what he did and not demand excellence of him. Love was supposedly demonstrated through harsh, demeaning judgment because it was making his son a man. The last image of the basketball player shows his father hugging him right after his team won the state championship. In a voice over the father states how the win gave him a reason to love his son.
               
While most of us aren’t as crazed or unforgiving as these four parents who were obviously selected to make some strong points about sports direction, we all must admit that we have fallen prey to elements in the film. We may have questioned our child’s commitment to the sport, or drilled her about errors made on the field, or demanded that our sons speak up to coaches. Our desire for our kids to succeed creates blinders to how good our children really are. When we believe them to be exceptional then we find ourselves incredulous that coaches and scouts don’t see the same thing. We may compare our children to other players on the team, "You’re faster than Jody. Why don’t you show it?" or "How come you always let Sammy take the shot?" While we may profess that we are just happy that our kids are playing a sport they enjoy, we all secretly harbor the dream that our son or daughter will be on the next Olympic team. That dream can make us expect unrealistic play and outcomes. With those expectations will come criticism, as if we could mold our child into that perfect, elite prodigy that writes the next great symphony, stars on Broadway, signs a $24 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, or invents the next Apple computer. We will push, cajole, beg, demean, discipline and intervene in an attempt to insure that our child achieves at a level higher than he or she is capable of.
               
One of the doctors joining in on this discussion is Drew Pinsky, an internist who is also an addiction specialist. He has coined the phrase, "narcissistic parenting" to encapsulate these behaviors demonstrated in "Trophy Kids." He argues that it isn’t just wanting to live vicariously through our children’s accomplishments which makes a narcissistic parent. That’s a component, but he explains that it actually stems from our unwillingness to be seen as anything less than perfect in our abilities to manufacture the ideal child. We want people to believe that we have some exceptional parenting talent which anoints us with children skilled beyond all others. This belief that as parents we are gifted in our parenting means that our children can also do no wrong, so parents make excuses for their kids and doing their work because any mistake reflects back badly on the parents. Narcissistic parents also don’t provide boundaries or consequences because perfect children don’t require these. What we end up with are parents who push their children to succeed, provide outside ancillary training to further that success, and have little tolerance for anything they perceive to be failures because that means they are failures. Worse, they don’t provide any support in the form of love and praise because they see those emotions muddying the goals.
               
Larry Lauer, PhD., is the mental skills specialist for the United States Tennis Association Player Development Program and the former Director of Coaching Education and Development in the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports (ISYS) at Michigan State University. In the latter capacity, he researched tennis parents, coaching, coach education, aggression in hockey and life skills development in youth. His conclusions showed that parents don’t understand the true developmental levels of children in sports and have unrealistic ideas of what children are capable of accomplishing at various age levels. In quizzing parents he learned that few understood how both physical and mental development occurs. For example, in a roundtable discussion following the airing of "Trophy Kids," he commented on the football father constantly berating his son, "Why don’t you get it?!" The father expected that his physically developed 15-year-old son would have the adult mental development to match and should fully understand the nuanced structure of football plays and how to anticipate those plays. However, Dr. Lauer explains that for many kids mental development in a sport lags behind the physical development. As parents we can’t expect our own children’s development to match or exceed that of other kids on the team. Yet we see a player with a fully developed "soccer brain" and believe that if our child would just try harder she could be as good or better. If she doesn’t achieve at that level we internalize that failure as our own. Dr. Lauer’s research also showed that kids who get demonstrated love and praise from their parents have stronger self-images, fewer addiction problems, and succeed as measured by normal standards of success — graduating from school, getting a job, having a happy marriage, and possessing good health. He has observed few cases of parents being able to will their children into elite athletes, although we are aware of such cases: Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods, Todd Marinovich. In such cases we have also seen the players suffer through horrible personal demons. In the drive to create "test-tube athletes" something significant in the child’s development is lost: childhood.
               
Marinovich, in particular, provides a strong cautionary tale for parental manipulation. His father, a former lineman for USC and a strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders, began molding his son before he was a month old taking over his diet, fitness, education, and all life decisions. Todd trained more hours than he hit the school books and stuck to a regimented diet and curfew. By his senior year in high school he had earned multiple honors such as Parade All-American and player of the year (1987) for both Dial and the Touchdown Club. Recruited by USC to be their quarterback, he was the first freshman starting quarterback since World War II. But when he went to college he was suddenly thrust into a world where his father no longer controlled his every move and decision. He imploded into drug and alcohol use, wild parties and missing classes. By the time he was recruited into the NFL, he was an addict and far behind in his emotional and decision-making maturity. Eventually he burned out in spectacular fashion. Drafted in 1991, he was out of the NFL by 1993 due to three failed drug tests. He made several come-back attempts both with the NFL and the Canadian Football League, but couldn’t shake his demons. He was part of the round-table discussion following "Trophy Kids." When asked what he would say to the football player who after a particularly nasty fight with his father ended up on the curb crying, Todd said, "I probably wouldn’t say anything. It would be more a hug." He admitted that the lack of evident oral and physical affection from his parents, especially his father, had everything to do with his poor choices later in life. Left without any self-confidence, a sense of being loved unconditionally, and a moral compass to handle decisions and adversity, he drifted into a world where drugs filled the void.
               
This isn’t to say that all kids with controlling, demanding parents will end up on drugs or homeless like Marinovich. But it does point out how damaging parental expectations can be. It is one thing to set the bar high and quite another to berate a child for not reaching the bar.  A positive example can be found in a recent viral video which shows a father in England reacting to his son finally passing math. The son had lifted his course grade from an F to a C, and the father was uncontrollably delirious, hugging his son, laughing with joy, and giving him a shower of verbal praise. The joy on the son’s face was also stunning as both enjoyed the moment of achieving "averageness." It’s a strong lesson in how we should be parenting, proud of accomplishments no matter how small without any strings attached. The father didn’t push the achievement by adding, "Now maybe you can earn a B." He let the moment be just as it was. I would love to see where that kid lands in ten years, but I’m imagining he’ll be happy and successful. Rather than demanding an A, the father simply wanted his son to pass.   As parents we should want our kids to find their own level of success without the pressure to excel. We can provide nurture as passion and talent dictate, but we need to check ourselves to be sure we aren’t misinterpreting or forcing passion and talent to serve our preconceived notions of where our children should place. Nurturing is a warm, gentle approach, not a typhoon of demands. We should educate ourselves in the milestones of athletic physical and mental development so we don’t have unrealistic expectations, and we should partner with our children, guiding them where we can and letting them lead where they should. It’s particularly important that we learn to listen. We may not end up with exceptional athletes, but we will end up with exceptionally happy children. 

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