The following guest post is by Allain Roy, CMG Sports President & CEO
Any experienced coach will tell you that the most difficult area to navigate in coaching youth sports is the parents. Having been a part of the hockey world for almost 39 of my 43 years, I can attest to that quote. Most parents out there will read this op-ed and agree with the logic behind it and even find humor in it, but for those parents who can relate to this issue, hopefully reading the item below will help make your child’s life easier, or at least help you reflect on the possibility that you may be “one of those parents” we are referring to.
I have been a professional sports agent for the last 13 years, after a 5 year pro career and an 18 year amateur career; I have been witness to more than enough examples of the overbearing, controlling parents with unreachable expectations for their child. Fortunately, I grew up in a large family where my parents expected the best from every child without a mention of expectations. It was understood and understated, and we did not want to disappoint. Yet, I never felt that anyone set the bar for me except myself. That was enough pressure, and it seemed a good balance. My parents were able to let go early and have us all find our way in life, for which I am very grateful. In recent years of dealing with individual athletes in their teens to their 40’s I have noticed an erosion of this ability to set realistic standards of achievement by the athlete, leading to an overwhelming sense of entitlement for the slightest achievement, and extreme insecurity. In recent years, I have noticed an increasing sense of entitlement common to British royalty! Players have success at the amateur levels and expect to be rewarded immediately. Families lavish their kids with praise for the slightest success, and the hunger grows within the athlete.
I meet with hundreds of families per year to discuss expectations and achievements, and I leave disappointed a majority of the time. Parents set the bar for the high jump when it is a long jump competition. The only outcome possible is failure, and the pressure falls upon the shoulders of their child. Being agents, we walk a fine line of being realists while making sure that the client and his family are comfortable with our belief in the athlete. Our job is to be part mentor, part facilitator, part educator, while having the client and his family steer the process. As the athlete matures and becomes more independent, the steering becomes easier… if the parents can let go. That is a big IF! I represent pro players in their twenties and thirties who have little control over their own decisions, and that is where the formative sense of entitlement period leads. I still have clients in their twenties who rarely communicate with me other than through a parent, which is concerning. We are developing a society where young adults struggle in communicating simple needs or expectations, while looking for shortcuts to success. The easy answer is to educate the parents, the difficult task is having the parents admit that they need to be educated.
Within the first 5 minutes of meeting a prospective family, most experienced agents can sniff out what they might be dealing with for the next few years. Many times, the athlete is the most realistic and sensible person at the table, yet the least vocal. Parents often jump right in with expectations, timelines, and rewards for goals reached, when most of these issues will not be addressed for years. Many families approach us as agents or advisors to wear as a badge of honor for others to see, as opposed to what we are really there to do: educate them.
I have to be honest and admit that I have been part of some recruiting meetings where my intuitions have told me that this is not the right family for our company, or that this will eventually blow up because of unrealistic expectations, yet I have closed the deal, only to regret it a few years down the road. Some of the best athletes in the world may have some of the worst controlling and overbearing parents, and they may still find a way to deal with it and succeed, but it cannot be easy. I have witnessed many careers end prematurely because a parent’s passion and drive for their child’s success smothered the flame within the athlete. So many moms and dads who live vicariously through their offspring don’t realize the damage they can do by setting unreachable goals. When struggles ensue, the blame is rarely borne by the parents and often deflected away from the athlete, that’s when agents, trainers, coaches, etc start getting fired.
It seems that “sense of entitlement” enjoys the company of “lack of accountability”. There has been a constant in our business, and that is that “the more demanding and unrealistic” a family can be, the less accountable everyone in that family is when things go wrong. The athlete is not achieving goals, so someone has to be blamed, and it is never the athlete or the parents. From experience, the quicker an athlete can find a way to be introspective and true to himself, the quicker success comes. I have witnessed both ends of that spectrum thousands of times.
We all shy away from looking at our own defaults, our own warts, but this is truly where we learn the most about ourselves and realize improvements in our lives. Failure should be expected and welcomed along the path of an athlete, because this is where the greatest amount of growth happens. Let’s stop shielding our kids and making excuses for them, and let’s make them accountable for all of their actions, good and bad. The next time you are watching a youth sport, look around you and you will see what I am talking about: the dad who was the last cut on varsity basketball; the mom who rowed in college but lost her career to injury; the parent who wasn’t athletic in high school; they are all present. What they say, how they say it, and who they say it to all has an effect on their child. Then look out onto the playing field, purity, innocence and joy. Do you want to be the next parent to snuff that flame out?