The Pendulum

Has the competitive sporting pendulum swung too far? If so who’s to blame, the parents, the teacher, the coach or the player? 

Does sports mirror our society when it comes to that question? Every generation lays claim to their superiority while reminiscing about the “good old days.” 

“When we played it was tougher and faster.” 

“We were a lot better athletes.” 

“The game may have changed, but it was still better back in the day.”

You can be a forward thinker or live in the past, but people on the frontlines of every sporting community or classroom are experiencing the momentum and velocity of the pendulum. 

It’s moving, but has it gone to far? 

The Inevitable 

There’s no denying the pendulum has swung in sports and in our society, it’s irrefutable really. 

I guess Bob Dylan was right “the times they are a changing.” 

The real question we should be asking is not why, but what happened to cause this massive shift of momentum in our society and our sporting community. 

Hit the Road: The 1980’s and 1990’s parent sporting mentality

From the gym, to the ball park, to the football field, to the pitch, to the rink, to the driving range or even the pool, over the years and unfortunately even today there are always “those parents” that want the best for their son or daughter, but at the end of the day suck the life, passion and more importantly the love of sport out of their child athlete. 

By yelling and coaching from the sidelines or from the front seat on the drive home, “those parents” have had the biggest hand in moving the sporting pendulum. 

It really doesn’t matter what sport we have all experienced it or witnessed it. 

“The crazy sporting parent.”

That’s one of the main reasons why the pendulum has swung so hard and fast. To be brutally honest the worst thing my father ever said to me after a game was “hit the road.”

Don’t worry he wasn’t kicking me out of the house or car for that matter, he wasn’t angry or upset at my performance he simply wanted me to go out for a run, to be in better shape.

Of course at the time I thought I was in the best shape of my life and I might have been, but he was right. I should have been more focused on my fitness throughout my career it would have made me a better athlete.

You see my mom and dad didn’t push it, didn’t force me to go run, didn’t shame me or guilt me into it.

They let things play out.

They let me figure it out on my own. 

From a hockey and golf perspective, hell for that matter any sport that my brother or I ever participated in, my parents had one golden rule to follow; work hard. 

Hard work that’s it, they wanted us to work hard and give it our all.

Win or lose work hard, it didn’t matter. It was that simple, but for many other young aspiring athletes from that era it wasn’t that simple.

My parents rule become entrenched in our DNA, which we have carried with us throughout our entire lives.

Just work hard. No extra pressure, no big professional aspirations, just work your ass off, that’s it, that was their only expectation of us. 

We were never subject to the tirades on drives home, they were all quiet drives, and on nights that I may not worked hard enough that was brought up, but never in an abusive way. 

My experiences with my parents in the game of hockey were extremely rare. I really can’t imagine what it must have been like to sit in the back seat and be berated for the entire trip home. 

So when I said we have all experienced it or witnessed it, well  I did and it changed my life forever.

The Practice Round 

Seeing one of my best friends in tears on the 4thhole of a practice round before the Provincial Championship because their father was caddying and over analyzing every aspect of their club selection, decision making and putting technique was something that will be with me for the rest of my life.

It happened close to 25 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday. 

Did I experience extreme sporting parents; NO, but that day I lived it. 

It only took four holes, about an hour or so for the tears to start, but for every tear they shed I grew angrier and angrier.

The hell with my preparation, it didn’t matter.

That father’s relentless advice, which he deemed helpful, became nagging criticism. 

It was endless.

When they started crying, the father acted like it was his child’s fault, that he was just trying make them more resilient, more “tournament tough.”

18 holes seemed like an eternity that day. 

Was this really happening, I thought it only happened on our home course, not at tournaments?

I felt terrible for them, but I couldn’t say anything. 

So when my other friend who also witnessed the unthinkable and I walked off the course that day it ended, but we could only imagine what went on when they got back to the hotel room that night, or what happened after every round for that matter.

You see my friend and I travelled the entire week with them, it took about 15 mins to get back to the hotel from the course. 

My first thought was the quiet drives home that I grew up on. 

That wasn’t the case, the father tried to make conversation with us like nothing happened on the way back to the hotel, but the topic always came back to golf, and their child’s decision making during the round, even what kind of ball to play. 

It was relentless, it was unnecessary, it was emotionally taxing, and it was bordering on abuse.

Thank the good Lord above that the NBGA has strict rules against parents caddying for junior events because that would have been an absolute nightmare.

I will never forget that practice round and looking at my friend and telling him quietly that I wanted to tell off my other friends father right then and there. 

There was no escaping the relentless verbal torture that day.

Was this what it was like for other highly skilled athletes coming up through the sporting ranks in the late 80’s and 90’s? 

 If so, something had to give!

Would it be my generation that started to rebel against people in positions of sporting influence and authority? 

Was it my generation that finally told their over bearing, over the top, know it all parents to back off and let them just play?

In some people’s minds the pendulum couldn’t swing fast enough. 

Finally “the crazy sporting parent” pendulum had to swing, but at what cost? 

Entitled: The New Age Athlete

Some thought when the pendulum finally swung it would rid the sporting world of “crazy overly intense sporting parents”.

In some ways it definitely has, but unfortunately they are still in our midst. 

Clandestinely implanted in every rink or sideline, well not really, because you pick him or her out from a hundred paces.

They are still obnoxiously negative self-serving yelling skeptics who believe to be in it for all the right reasons, have all the answers and have the “teams” best interests in mind.

How can these sporting parents still exist? 

Nevertheless, have this generation of parents totally changed their mindset and philosophy regarding their involvement in their child’s sporting lives?

Have they gone too far the other way? 

Have they become to Laissez-faire? 

Maybe this generation of sporting parents were pushed too hard in their own sporting endeavors and swore never to do that to their children. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see the “crazy sporting parents” involved in any aspect of their child’s lives, but did the pendulum swing too far the other way, have parents shied away from their child’s involvement in sports all together? 

There seems to be an ongoing philosophy out there “give your child every opportunity,” which is great, but what does that really mean? 

Be in the picture, be supportive, but don’t push, challenge or set perimeters to teach self-discipline, work ethic, leadership skills and attitude.

It just seems like some parents these days don’t want to be labeled the “crazy sporting parent”, who would really, but maybe they want to enjoy their son and daughters journey and that’s perfectly fine, but by doing that have they created an environment of complacency or an era of entitlement. 

By giving their child every opportunity to succeed have they created a sense of entitlement free from accountability, responsibility and ownership. 

So when things gets tough or someone challenges the child’s behavior, attitude and work ethic, it’s becomes an easy response, it’s not my child’s fault, maybe the coach is the issue.

Have parents taken work ethic, character, self-discipline out of the equation by providing their child with the best opportunity? 

Sure their child’s very gifted, sure they play on all the best teams, year round, that’s another story for another time, and have the best equipment, but does their young aspiring athlete know what it takes to work for it, know what adversity is like, know how to respond when challenged?

You see this era of young athletes have grown up with everything at their fingertips, everything a click away.

Does the new era athlete really know what it’s like to fail, do they know how to handle losing, can they cope with the rigors of real growth and development and everything that entails day in day out? 

Has the fast paced world of social media, likes and shares, Snapchats and followers ruined the new eras athletes mindset? 

Have all the modern day distractions in our society taken away from putting extra time to reach a higher level of competency and mastery in athletics?

I can tell you one thing I see it in the classroom, I see it when I’m sitting in rinks freezing my arse off scouting.

Athletes and students these days try to pick and choose when to work hard, it’s like they know when to flip the switch.

Nonetheless, when things start to ramp up and the student gets more than one deadline or doesn’t grasp a new concept right away or play against a team that pushes their envelop, they are the first ones to say they are feeling anxious or have anxiety or are nervous about the due date or end result or the big game.

They use the word anxious, but really it’s a sense of worry from procrastinating or not being able to flip the switch in time, not being prepared to work hard and respond when it really counts. 

Does this generation of athletes or students have the intrinsic drive and self-discipline to reach their full potential? 

I think everyone can draw their own conclusions on that one! 

In years gone by that extra push came negatively or positively directly or indirectly from their parents.

The athlete either did it in-spite of their parents or didn’t want to let their parents down and followed through, which if you ask me is wrong on both accounts. 

The player or student has to want it, they have to be intrinsically driven to succeed and they have to have the skills necessary to accomplish the task, but also have the soft skills that it takes to problem solve independently to reach the best outcome possible or achieve their absolute best in the sporting world.

That’s how you develop and grow as a person and an athlete.

That’s what separates athletes today, character, compete level, a willingness to learn are they coachable, are they willing to make sacrifices, fail and move forward.

So where’s the skill in all of that? 

So the athlete has tremendous skill, but doesn’t have the other intangibles it takes to excel or get to the next level. 

Again I’m not praising the “crazy sporting parent” in any way, but what I am saying is this, in the past the athletes parents played a much larger role on a lot of different facets of their child’s pursuit of the supposed sporting dream. 

At the end of the day the athlete has to want it, they have to have all the right tools in place, the intangibles it takes to be successful, they have to be driven.

I believe one high-ranking local hockey executive that I spoke to researching for the article said it best.

“You can’t put drive in driven.” 

The athlete has to want it.

The parent may want it more and that’s a big problem especially when it comes to young highly skilled athletes, but how does the athlete learn how to be driven, learn how to passionate, or learn how to love the game?

Is it up to the parent?

Is it up to the player? 

Where does the coach fit in all of this? 

In an era of entitlement how can coaches truly reach athletes?

A Coaching Dilemma 

The pendulum has swung in the coaching world as well, it’s undeniable. 

You better believe that coaches across the entire sporting community have felt the wrath of the “crazed sporting parents” and “entitled athletes” over the years, but have they really changed their philosophy in any way? 

Have they done enough to reach and teach the new era of athletes?

How do you coach a kid that is satisfied just to be there? 

How do you coach a kid that isn’t driven to get better? 

How do you coach a kid that doesn’t know what hard work really is? 

How do you coach a kid that has been given everything they ever wanted? 

How do you coach a kid that can’t handle constructive criticism? 

That’s the coaching dilemma! 

Coaches have worn many hats over the years and still do, but all the best coaches continue to modify and adapt their philosophies. Show me a coach that doesn’t adapt and I’ll show you an unemployed coach. 

Coaches from the grassroots to the pro level are constantly searching for the winning formula, constantly searching for the best ways to motivate and inspire their players. 

So can you win with the new era of athletes? If so how do motivate and inspire them, how do you get entitled kids to play together as a team?

Great coaching is great coaching. 

Gone are the days of breaking the player down and building them up.

Gone are the days of yelling and screaming, some coaches still apply those techniques, but their run in the coaching world is extremely short lived.

Today’s coaches have to communicate like never before, they have to understand and accept the world their athletes live in and have grown up in. 

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, well I can actually I see it every day in the classroom. 

I haven’t coached in what seems like forever, but I do teach the same age group that I scout and let me tell you this they are easily distracted or misguided. 

Today’s 15 year old kid needs structure, needs discipline, needs guidance, needs support and encouragement. 

They need to know someone cares, they need a life coach or a mentor, but more importantly they need to be inspired.

Today’s athlete might not know or believe how close they are to reaching their dream, they may not know the extra effort it takes to get there, that’s where the coach comes in.

Great coaches will balance tough love, motivation and inspiration, great coaches will show patience and persistence.

Great coaches will model and promote all the intangibles necessary for the athlete to succeed and reach their highest potential.

Great coaches seem to be able manage it all. 

If you ask me coaching is the great equalizer in all of this, it can provide reason for the parent, inspiration for the athlete and purpose and clarity for those lost or confused along the sporting journey. 

Great coaching is great coaching.

The pendulum may have swung, but parents, coaches and athletes all have a hand in moving it.

Where will the pendulum swing next? 

Is the sporting world ready for another massive swing are the parents, coaches and athletes prepared? 

2 comments

  1. All good for thought but The root of the problem today is more than ever, parents involvement in EVERY aspect of their kids lives. Athletes are entitled and uncoachable because their parents have allowed it too happen. Like how on earth have we had the evolution of “family advisors “ become a thing !
    10 years ago when
    “Spring hockey “ was really starting to take off I had a parent say that his son just loves coming to the rink all the time and I replied …. are you sure? Or does he just love you ?” Kids for the most part want to please their parents.

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  2. Let’s face it. Children are most always a product of their environment. Sure each have their own peculiar character traits, but generally good parenting = good kids. And, it is not difficult to spot those kids. The real problem with kids are ADULTS & that includes parents, coaches & yes, in some cases, educators. The kids are just adapting to their surroundings.

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