Written by Dave Yasvinski
Friday, August 3rd, 2018
What parent hasn't seen their child gracefully navigate the intricacies of the playground, marveled at their unparalleled speed and coordination and wondered when the sports agents would come calling?
If you haven't, chances are you know someone who has.
Living vicariously through your children may not be healthy, but wanting them to be successful in life certainly is. And once children begin to show some serious signs of potential in sports, it can be difficult to remain objective and keep them on a healthy path. If you're thinking about fast-tracking your kid to the big leagues, it's important to know what you're getting them — and yourself — into.
One of the first things to avoid is letting your kids get too serious about any one sport too soon, says Jeremiah Brown, Canadian Olympic medalist in rowing and author of The 4 Year Olympian. "I know parents wrestle with this one all the time," he says. "But, statistically, it makes no sense to take a strategy in line with trying to get your kid to become a professional athlete."
When Costs Outweigh Benefits
"I think the costs outweigh the benefits of specializing a kid in a certain sport with the idea that they're going to become world class or enter professional sports. Chances are they're going to burn out because of the mental stuff and just not be mature enough to handle that kind of pressure."
Brown took a different road to the Olympics than most, deciding at age 22 to try to make it to the podium at the 2012 Games in London — an event just four years away at the time — in a sport he had no experience in. Once you fully commit to a goal like the Olympics, or the NHL or winning a scholarship, the dynamic of something you love can change overnight, even if you're already an adult, like Brown.
When Sports Become Your Job
"It really is a job and the pressures are different," he says. "And they're not always healthy, because you're just pushing yourself to the absolute limit to win. It's just about pure competition at the highest level."
Spending years at that absolute limit can take a toll on the strongest bodies and most focused minds. “A lot of us, when we move on from sport, we have issues — there can be situational depression and a lot of that's related to, 'Who am I now that I'm not an athlete?'"
"There can be anxiety, and the pressure to get to the highest level can sharpen that to a fine point. And then they get out the other side, and it's almost a little bit like PTSD-like symptoms where they're still reeling from the pressure."
How Parents Can Help Their Children
One way to address these challenges is to make sure, as parents, that being an athlete doesn't become a core part of who your children are. The older they get, the easier this becomes, and the more certain you can be that they're competing for the right reasons.
"If everything and everyone around them is telling them that they're this great athlete, and you have this expectation of going to college and maybe getting an NCAA scholarship or going on the national team in Canada or this and that – it's just an incredible amount of pressure for a young person and a young mind to try to live up to that.
"The motivation, ultimately, if they're going to be successful, has to come from the kid."
But just so you don't think the road to athletic success is littered only with disappointment, Brown is quick to point out that he has no regrets. "It's the passion of sport that pulls us forward," he says. "You learn about the limits of your resilience and your willpower and all those good things."