I am writing this, not as a disgruntled coach tired of the “pain-in-the-butt” parents, but as a person who has witnessed a generation of young people who are struggling to not only find joy and fulfillment in their sport, but also to feel they are worthy of their parents’ love. I have witnessed the tears, the meltdowns, and the growing anxiety and depression in sports. I sense and know so many well intentioned parents who are getting lost in their child’s sporting experience.

Dear Parent,

  • who posts their child’s box score after every game on social media;

  • who set up a separate camera so that they can film their child’s every move in the game;

  • who creates highlight reels of their child’s performance to share on social media;

  • who proudly walks around talking about the number of “offers” their child has received from various colleges;

  • who believes getting an athletic scholarship is “making it”;

  • who goes on high school sports forums to bash other players and teams;

  • who contacts the coach when their child’s name is spelled wrong or their points are off in the newspaper box score;

  • who cries when their child is benched for not being a good teammate;

  • who blames the coach for their child’s poor statistics and failure to make the all-star team;

  • who literally cries after the game because their child doesn’t get playing time;

  • who are kept up at night after their child’s team is crushed by the opponent;

  • who yell, punish, and become “disappointed” in their child after performing poorly in the game;

  • who sits in the stands and only cheers when their child is in the game;

  • who waits outside the locker room to criticize their child’s performance;

  • who encourages their child to look out for themselves and “get theirs”;

  • who lectures their child on the car ride home;

I write this to the parents who are unwilling to let their child struggle and overcome challenges. You are robbing them of their greatest opportunities to grow as a person, and to develop the work ethic, grit, and resourcefulness that are necessary to succeed.

I write this to the parent whom, whether they realize it or not, finds their value and self-worth in their child’s sporting accomplishments. You need to know that your value and self-worth should not come from what your child does. It must come from who you are as a person.

As a coach, I have seen far too many instances where it is the parent who is most upset by a big loss, lack of playing time, or their child’s poor performance.

One of the greatest obstacles to a child’s success and enjoyment in sports is the belief that their value and self-worth must come from their performance and achievements, instead of who they are as a person. When you praise achievement, performance, awards, and accolades, you promote a fixed mindset, you create unhealthy pressure, and you “push them towards performance-based identity prisons” (Joshua Medcalf and Jamie Gilbert, Transformational Leadership).

Let me tell you about that prison.

In my case it was my coach who helped build the prison, not my parents.

I knew it all too well as a teenage boy.

It is this dark place where you feel you must continuously do more and achieve more if you want to be worthy of love.

In this place, we believe we are not enough.

Nothing feels like enough, and it never is enough, because there is always more that we can achieve.

We can score more points, win more trophies, and receive more scholarships.

I know this is not what you want for your child.

I know this is not what you are trying to do.

Yet, this is the reality of so many parent-athlete relationships.

The Healthy Way

Praise your children for their effort in a world that values taking the easy way out.

Praise your children for their positive attitude in a culture of negativity.

Praise your children for their resilience in the face of adversity.

Praise your children for their empathy, selflessness, and caring in a sporting culture that values “me first” and has a win-at-all-costs attitude.

But even more than any of that, love and be proud of your children, just for being your children.

Because they shouldn’t need to do anything to earn that love.

-J.P. Nerbun