Parenting Styles: The Sports Parent From Hell
As a kid, I wasn't very good at sports. I was OK, but I certainly didn't excel and I never really had that competitive fire that drives all great athletes. I'm sure a major reason for my blasé attitude stemmed from the fact that my dad had the bad habit of standing on the sidelines of whatever sport I was playing and highlighting at the top of his lungs my errors on the field or court. (What was he thinking?) As a result, I always wondered how I'd handle my own kids' forays into the sporting world.
My daughter, as she readily tells everyone she meets, is a gymnast. Not yet 5, she's already been taking gymnastics for more than three years. As she progressed from the baby movement classes to the ones that actually incorporate "real gymnastics," it was clear she had a gift. She easily mastered drills and it was a joy to watch her tumble, leap and swing with grace. I wasn't the only one who was impressed: Not long ago, her gym invited her to enter its pre-team program, the first step toward competitive gymnastics.
Since she started her new classes (twice a week training sessions with a severe-looking, old-school eastern European coach), I've noticed a bad habit in myself: I desperately want her to be really, really good. No, I don't stand in the gym loudly berating her to keep her toes pointed when she does a handstand (her coach handles that). But I couldn't stop myself from giving her a talking to on a drive home one afternoon for telling her coach that she "hates" doing sit-ups. "I think if you say to your coach that you 'hate' sit-ups, it might make her mad," I said. "You don't want her to think that you don't like gymnastics, right?" Of course, I immediately felt guilty for this. The kid is not even 5 yet! And what child willingly wants to do sit-ups? She's not old enough to make the connection between having a strong core and gymnastics success. She's by far the youngest kid in the class! And shouldn't I be prizing honesty (admitting she hates sit-ups) over deference (blindly doing what her coach tells her to)? My Type A, sports-parent-from-hell outburst didn't seem to bother my daughter all that much, though. Her only reply was: "Can I get a gumball?"
So now I'm trying to be mellower. I keep reminding myself that gymnastics is about fun, not about "excellence" or some strict mark of achievement. I have vowed not to push my daughter to like sit-ups, and if she complains to her coach, that's fine, too. Even if, heaven forbid, she decides she hates it and wants to quit, I will not freak out. I am cool. I am not my father. And anyway, my 2-year-old son has shown a real aptitude for soccer, and I am certain he's going to kick ass when he starts to play.