Why It Sucks To Be The Parent Of A Good Athlete

Asia Mape
In Balance, Learn
By Asia Mape | September 29, 2015

Why It Sucks To Be The Parent Of A Good Athlete

I know how this sounds, but hear me out.

I’m guessing that the majority of you may also be dealing with this issue. It’s called “potential.”

That’s right. A kid with “potential “offers an abundance of unique challenges because the “good athlete” path is so unclear.

I sometimes feel that it might be nice to have a kid who wasn’t sporty… obvious from an early age that they wouldn’t be competing for a spot on any high school, college or professional team. There are many more admirable things these kids will go on to accomplish. I’m certain it can be tough at times for the parents of the non-sporty kid to witness other moms and dads holding their breath when their child is at bat or put into the game at a crucial moment, but these parents can at least accept the facts and relax. And why not? Despite a few tough moments and some bumps and bruises both literally and figuratively, the path is clear and these parents don’t need to spend a lot of time, money or worry devoted to making decisions about their child’s future in sports. Their kids play for fun, exercise or because their parents understand the important life lessons they can gain through playing sports.

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On the other end of the spectrum are the parents of elite or supremely gifted athletes. They also have a fairly clear path. These kids are also typically easy to spot early on. They are the ones who have been plucked out of the lineup since they were five. They’re the kids who are always on the travel teams, the all-star teams, the ODP squads, the junior national, etc., etc. They seem destined for a golden future – college level and beyond. Many who fall into this group have ended up on the best teams with the best coaches and the best training. The super-kid athletes seem like they were born to play sports. And they excel not at just one sport, but every one they decide to play. Seems like an easy enough job to parent them, although I’m sure they would have their own lists of gripes that might include the immense pressure these kids and parents probably feel.

Then there is the third group. My group and for the majority of you who are probably reading this right now … the “good” athletes. Our children aren’t superstars, they aren’t plucked from their team to join the super-teams, they’re not MVPs, but they are definitely good enough to compete and do well on their teams. And that is exactly why this ”potential” issue is so darn tough.

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The possibility of greatness is hard to ignore – it seems to exist, or does it? And therein lies the struggle. It’s why we push so hard. “Potential” is dangling in front of our kids. Our children are strong competitors, love sports and could be elite athletes one day. Or not. They aren’t there yet, but could they be? Michael Jordan, arguably the best player to ever play the game of basketball, was cut from his varsity team as a sophomore; Carmelo Anthony was cut as a freshman in high school, and what about Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player in the world? He was sent packing from his junior team at age 11. Now these are gifted athletes, but what if they let those setbacks change their course, or if their parents allowed them to quit or didn’t push them to keep going by providing them with whatever support they needed? Hard to know for sure, but it’s possible their potential wouldn’t have been realized.

As parents, we feel we have a role in determining their success or at least helping it along. That’s why we do extra practices, sports camps in the summer to maximize “downtime,” and hire private trainers. We debate which team is the right fit for each kid, which coach is going to nurture the potential … or not. We keep hoping, wondering and working – supporting their dreams and doing everything in our power to give them the best chance at it. Because after all, it’s not a sure thing. Right now, it’s just potential.


  1. How about the parent of the athlete who plays at a high level…without the drive to play in college. How do you balance finding a team where she’ll be able to play for fun at her level, without all the huge expenses and pressure you incur for the kids chasing scholarships?

    • That’s a great question! Right. I’m struggling with this a little bit right now too. If high school isn’t in the near future, this could be tough. I know my daughter has been challenged a lot playing volleyball at a local YMCA adult meet up, even though she’s only 13. But I guess this is probably a little unique. In our area we have a lot to choose from in the big four sports. I wish you luck and I’m sorry I don’t have more answers.

  2. I can so relate to this post, but with a twist. My daughter showed advanced softball skills as a pitcher and power hitter at an early age. At age 10, she fell and suffered a broken wrist (pitching hand) and sat out most of the year. She rebounded as a 12-year-old, striking out girls left and right, but then at 13 she dislocated her kneecap during winter workouts. The injury was to her right, push-off leg. That sapped her speed, and while she has a number of pitches, her inability to throw hard has stymied her progress. The rehab is done, but she still experiences pain and discomfort. Now, the question is not only how good is she, relative to the pack, but will she ever stay healthy enough to reach whatever potential can be realized? Fortunately, she loves the game dearly and will continue to reap those rewards, regardless of future greatness.

    • Erik,
      That’s tough. Yes, injuries and how hard to push and work through add an entirely different layer of questions and apprehension about doing the right thing. We wish you and her well. These are not easy choices no doubt. Good luck and thanks for sharing!

  3. Great post and I am sure everyone with an athletic family can relate… I have four boys and their engagement levels range from completely disinterested in sports to deep philosophical discussion about the rationale for ranking the US Women’s National Team above the US Men’s National Team in FIFA 16 (released earlier this month). In deciding whereto invest I try to focus less on on-field performance, which can fluctuate with mood, growth spurt and team quality, and more on passion and joy. One of my children has a passion for soccer so I support it with everything I have. The other three have different passions, so I focus more on the friendships and discipline.


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