Why do you think it’s different here than in Sweden?
“I think Sweden is more modest; maybe, also, more realistic. We don’t think we’ll go to the NHL or NBA.”
Their boss walks in. Tijana says, “Do you have any angry-parent stories for this guy?” He looks at me and says, “Are you kidding? I have over 500 kids; each with two parents. I have a few stories each week. I have nightmares about it!”
(IN)FAMOUS SPORTS PARENTS
When you see a player like Tiger Woods, who becomes the best golfer ever, it reinforces all this negative, overachieving attitude parents are involved in. Tiger’s dad started him on golf before the age of one. He was on The Mike Douglas Show golfing with Bob Hope at age two, and there’s another clip of him on Carson golfing at a young age. Instead of a father thinking the odds of their son being the next Tiger are the same as winning the lottery, they think pushing them hard is just the ticket.
Another successful sports father is Richard Williams. His daughters Venus and Serena became the two best players in tennis. He’s told reporters he’d dreamed of a better future for his four daughters and that he would achieve that dream if at least one of them succeeded in sports. He got lucky with two, but from my point of view, it’s a strange dream to have. A career in professional sports, especially for women, is hard to attain. The Williams girls have said in interviews that they were on the tennis courts with their father hitting balls so hard, it was like dodging bullets.
Their former hitting coach, Dave Rineberg, disagrees. He was fired by Richard, but in his book Venus & Serena, My Seven Years as Hitting Coach for the Williams Sisters (Frederick Fell Publishers), he mentions Richard conceiving the dream of them becoming the best women’s tennis players when they were four and five years old. Richard talked about how he was smart to limit their competition during their junior years, and the ways he’d trained them for the pros, and that he’d even pull them from the courts for over a month at a time, to take them to Disney World, for instance, so they’d have a somewhat normal childhood and not burn out.
I think it’s great that Richard did those things, but I’d be willing to bet that if the girls had wanted to quit tennis at age ten, he wouldn’t have let them. I have a problem with that. And while the Williams sisters were winning tournaments, Richard was shouting from the stands and holding up signs. He and his daughters acted unprofessionally — the young women threw their rackets to the ground in anger, tended to withhold kudos for opponents who beat them, and wore clothing and jewelry many considered distracting to their opponents. They turned off many in the tennis world. Richard screamed racism. Someone should have told him that instead of training the girls so hard, he might’ve taught them good sportsmanship and professionalism.
I had a friend who I felt would become one of these Little League dads. He played sports himself and was competitive. When his kids were babies, he talked about getting them into Little League. I thought I’d test him. “What if they don’t want to play baseball?” I asked. “Just because you loved baseball, they might not.” He said, “I won’t make them. If they don’t want to play baseball, they won’t have to.” After a minute of silence, he added, “But they’ll have to play at least a year or two. To see if they don’t like it.”
I haven’t seen him in years but have been told by mutual friends that his kids love sports and excel. His brother says he’s a great coach. But he’s been thrown out of a few games, and he yells at referees. I’m not so sure you can be a great coach for youth if you’re yelling and a poor sport. A coach should lead by example.
A former Grossmont High School P.E. teacher told me, “Kids are competitive enough without having parents and coaches going overboard on top of that. Coaches at the youth level should be teaching the sport. I work in middle school P.E. now, and I stopped letting the kids pick their own teams. Aside from the last ones being picked feeling bad, it wouldn’t be any fun if all the good players were stacked on one team. It wouldn’t be competitive, and everyone would lose interest. But they’d still do it that way, if you let them pick teams themselves. It’s human nature, I guess.”
ADULTS SCREAM BLOODY MURDER…AT A T-BALL GAME FOR FOUR-YEAR-OLDS
I asked my friend Gerald if I could watch his son’s baseball game. “He’s only four,” Gerald said. “He’s playing T-ball. Nobody yells or fights.” I said, “I know parents and coaches. I’m sure I’ll see a fight. If not, I’ll still get a chance to see your kid take a few swings and take a few pictures.”
When I showed up at the fields in San Carlos, I was surprised by the number of SUVs and vans in the parking lot that had painted names and numbers on them and different messages about winning, an athletic extension of the bumper stickers that declare a child “student of the week.” When I was young, I was thrilled just having my parents in the stands every other game.
I arrived early and went to get a Coke. I overheard two guys talking. One said, “I emailed that parent about the kid and how they should move him to center field because he’s hurting the team.” The other parent talked about having lectured his son on how bad his hitting was.
I thought of the scene in the movie Parenthood when Clint Howard yells at Steve Martin because his son has dropped a routine fly ball: “He has no business being out there.”