The Damaging Effects Of Overparenting Our Athletes
The damaging effects of overparenting our athletes. Not too long ago, I witnessed a middle-school boy drop to his knees on the pitching mound and start to sob; he was being subbed out in a pre-season game. A tough loss after a 16U girls’ soccer game, and two girls walk off the field with tears streaming. We feel for our kids in these moments, sometimes even fighting back our own tears as we witness them in distress. But it also brings about the question, why? How are we failing them to the point that being subbed out of a game ignites a mini-meltdown?
For a child to be successful in life, they need to experience discomfort. For an athlete to be successful, they need to experience lots of discomfort. Sports, by nature of being a physical activity, requires pushing past the comfort zone of scrolling through your social media while on the couch snacking. Mix in the mental aspect of performing in front of teammates, family, and fans, and we double down on discomfort. Sports take grit, and maybe we aren’t preparing our kids properly. Overparenting, also known as snowplow parents, lawnmower, or bulldozer parents, remove all obstacles from a child’s path so they don’t experience any pain, failure, or discomfort. If we deny our children the opportunity to fail and get uncomfortable, they are not going to have any practice at it when it matters most. The effects of our overparenting are damaging our athletes.
“Grit is the highest predictor of future success in children.” – Angela Duckworth
I was pretty good about not being one of ‘those’ parents. I didn’t talk to coaches about playtime or complain to teachers about grades, or call their friends’ parents when they were having drama. But I had my own variety of snowplow parenting; I wanted to make things as easy as possible for them. For me, being a good mom meant putting a great deal of time, care, and thought into making sure all of their needs were met and met quickly. I’d set out healthy snacks for them before they even got hungry, carried extra jackets, flip flops, granola bars, and water in the car … just in case they were hot, cold, hungry, or thirsty. I was anticipating their every need before they even knew they had one. I wasn’t helping them; I was hurting them.
I had an ah-ha moment when my kids were 12, 11, and 8. I was late picking them up from school, and I was never late. But on this day, after leaving work early, I rushed to Jamba Juice for pre-practice smoothies, and my order wasn’t ready, so I got to their school about fifteen minutes late. By their reactions, you would have thought I had committed a horrible crime. Three little faces scrunched up and angry, disbelief at my audacity to make them wait. The complaining continued on into the car ride to practice. That night, reflecting on their reaction, I got mad..at myself. I realized I had done this to them. I may not have been a typical snowplow parent, but my kids didn’t know much about being uncomfortable. I had rarely allowed them that opportunity.
Hundreds of books and articles have been written on the subject of grit and the lack of it in our kids today. One of the best ones is “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth calls it “Magical dirt” and claims it’s the highest predictor of future success in children.
Each micro-success done without a parent’s help builds confidence in their own abilities.
If we deny them opportunities to be uncomfortable, we are denying them the opportunity to depend on themselves and to learn they can handle it. Each micro-success done without a parent’s help builds confidence in their own abilities. In school, sports, and their everyday lives, kids need to practice flexing this ‘grit’ muscle in order to succeed.
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