Pushy parents get red card

2014-02-08 00:00

SOUTH African sports parents are being asked to stop hounding their children and school coaches to win at all costs — or face red cards for themselves, and failure for their children.

This week, the trial of two Bloemfontein parents — who allegedly beat their star 10-year-old daughter when she tired of swimming laps in a lake — exposed the harmful extremes a few parents go to in forcing achievement on their kids.

But new research — including a paper that has triggered a new policy for schools coaches — shows that even loving parents often “unwittingly” drive their children to burn-out or mental harm through overzealous demands before the age of puberty, and unrealistic demands thereafter.

Another paper in the U.S. found that elite sports teenagers preferred being watched by their grandparents — with the majority in the survey agreeing that the worst experience of their young careers was “the ride home from games with my parents”. The research found that children preferred the comment “I love to watch you play” to analyses of the game or, especially, a loss.

The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) has released a “parent’s guide” through its 41 federations based on its Long-Term Participant Development (LTPD) initiative, which encourages fun activity from younger ages — and discourages parents from forcing their kids into specialised sports before puberty.

The Canadian-based programme includes research showing that both satisfaction and performance for children is highest with “active” sporting parents, but that both drop off sharply under “hyperactive” parents.

This week, a sports psychologist and two coaches told Weekend Witness that a minority of overzealous parents — particularly at affluent schools — were stunting their children’s development by issuing them with ultimatums, screamed directions and even steroids.

Last month, a Pietermaritzburg judge had to step in to end the over-the-top demands from one overzealous parent, Pranesh Indrajith, that his son, Pravishkar, be reinstated as cricket captain at St Charles College.

Last year, English soccer legend Gary Lineker spoke publicly after having to remonstrate with fathers who were yelling at their sons at soccer fields. “The fear they instil in our promising but sensitive [little] Johnny is utterly depressing.”

Over-the-top parent support is witnessed on KZN school sports fields every weekend. Sharmin Naidoo, director of sport at Westville Boys High School, said one referee stopped a rugby match last year until an unruly parent left the ground. “Most parents play a very positive, supportive role which helps round boys as sportsmen and people, but we do see some who are over the top, yelling instructions or swearing from the sidelines,” said Naidoo.

“We actually have parent [sport] counselling to help parents strike the right balance.”

Yoliswa Lumka, manager of national academies for Sascoc, and a former coach, said she had had to stop games even at U10 girls hockey and netball to “have a word with parents”.

“Even at half time, moms run on to the field to give their daughter the Energade, fluff her hair and fix the pony tail, and give coaching direction, when the team needs to have the same snacks and take direction from the coach alone,” she said.

“We’re a very sports-mad country, but we can achieve the right balance. The key to our initiative is that an emphasis on fun is not only good for the child, but good for their development.”

Lumka said she had heard proposals that “red lines” be drawn for parents at the sides of sports fields — like English football managers’s painted boxes — to create greater distance between the children and their parents’ prowling and yelling.

One coach, who asked not to be named, suggested that parents be issued with yellow and red cards for pitch-side misbehaviour.

Sports psychologist Dr Soezin Krog said most hyperactive sports parents were “trying to live out their personal dreams through the achievements of their children, no matter the cost.

“If you watch games at the Easter festivals, say, you see parents swearing at referees and even their own kids,” she said.

“I have heard that some parents have even given their kids steroids.”

Krog said she believed Life Orientation classes at schools should include coping mechanisms for kids to deal with pressure from parents.

Last month, Leonard Blom, headmaster of St Aubyn’s School in Essex, told the UK’s Daily Mail he had seen one mother “collapse in a heap at the end of each race, exhausted at the attempt to get her daughter across to the other end of the pool”.

Blom added: “Comments like, ‘You need to run your lines more like James’ or ‘Jane practices all the time, that’s why she’s better’, might not be meant as harmful but it can give the impression that you aren’t proud.”

Tiger Woods (golf):

On the death of his dad Earl, Tiger Woods said on his website, tigerwoods.com: “My dad was my best friend and greatest role model. He was an amazing dad, coach, mentor, soldier, husband and friend.”

After almost every tournament victory, Woods could be seen on ­national television striding off the 18th green and embracing his father, the New York Times reported.

“When Tiger Woods won the 2005 Masters, he said he was dedicating the victory to his father, who was watching on television from a nearby hotel room because he was too ill to be on the course.”

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