Over the years I’ve talked to many athletes who have shared their earliest athletic histories with me. Their responses have been varied, but the general undercurrent tends to focus on their bad experiences rather than their successes.
While they shared with me their failures, their most-hated coach stories, and their worst moments in sports, I’ve also been privy to some inspiring stories of success too.
We all are subject to unpleasant memories from the past. The warning to fathers is to beware of any negative athletic experiences that might cause you to pass on your wounded heart to your kids.
Over-emphasizing or under-emphasizing sports are two extremes approaches that fathers often have. How does this happen?
The Fanatical Father
This dad was most likely originally affected adversely in his youth by being a late bloomer, uncoordinated, or overlooked by the people who mattered most—his peers, parents, and coaches.
His insatiable need to succeed may come from the deep-seated wounds he suffered because of negative and unfulfilling athletic endeavors during his formative years.
This dad’s need to achieve respect through sports may be one of the most powerful forces driving his endeavors.
My husband has sought to gain respect through the years by overcoming physically challenging sports. I think in part his drive was a reaction to some unfulfilled need to succeed in youth sports.
As a result, he has conquered many extreme sports such as skydiving, martial arts, scuba diving, and snow skiing.
His experience is not unusual and I believe many men are motivated by the same strong drive to succeed athletically well after their youthful years are gone.
This dad could react by overemphasizing athletics, pushing so hard to protect his kids from his own painful, perceived failings that he becomes fanatical.
This determined dad runs over anyone in his or his kid’s way, whether it’s other parents, referees, opposing fans, or even the coach.
This guy only adds fuel to his already self-consuming fire when he coaches his child’s teams. He can be so blinded by his own desires to make his son or daughter a “good athlete” that he never even considers the child’s natural strengths or talents.
God forbid that his child sit on the bench, and the idea of them not playing sports is unthinkable.
This dad is miserable unless his child really is the star. Seldom having an objective opinion of his talent, he will hatch all kinds of conspiracy theories to explain why he or she isn’t playing.
We all fall victim to these irrational behaviors from time to time, but the fanatical father crosses the line of rational reactions and ventures into dangerous territory.
These lines can become very fuzzy for a parent, especially the wounded father, as many kids are pushed to achieve by enthusiastic fathers who have the best of intentions.
Nevertheless, a dad’s overemphasis of athletic achievement for his child can cause hurt feelings, resentment, and family discord.
The Apathetic Father
The other extreme is the father who under-emphasizes sports, downplaying athletics or ignoring them completely.
This father’s athletic experience was probably not negative in the sense that he didn’t have success, but rather that he didn’t enjoy the pressure put on him or the expectations of the coaches or his parents.
Perhaps he was made to play by a “fanatical” father. He still may be very physically active and enjoy watching sports, but this dad doesn’t want his kid to have the same negative experiences that he had.
It could have been the pressure, the fear of failing, or normal teenage insecurities that caused his dislike of organized sports. Whatever the reason, his motives are good. He wants to protect his kid’s heart.
My brother falls into this category. He played high school sports and had a fair amount of success, but he never really enjoyed the pressure.
As an adult he has been able to identify and verbalize many of the negatives he experienced with athletics.
He has spent many hours doing other activities with his kids, like hunting and fishing, but he chose to downplay team sports for them.
A pastor friend of ours also fits into this category of under-emphasizing sports. He was six feet tall in junior high and has memories of being exploited by coaches who didn’t seem to care much for him as a person.
He had three sons of his own, and for many years he tried to downplay sports and direct their energies elsewhere.
But he eventually had to accept his boys’ desires to play, and he coached his sons for many years in basketball and soccer.
His strong Christian influence and cautious approached helped guard his son’s hearts through athletics with mostly positive results.
The Big-Picture Father
Hindsight is always 20/20, and it’s easy to second-guess oneself as a parent, but I think my husband would’ve parented our son differently with regards to athletics.
He has shared with me that while football was a great motivator for Micah his senior year of high school, and it helped keep his grades up and his attitude in check, he wished he’d directed him to focus more on his church youth group, his academics, and his other God-given gifts and talents.
By overemphasizing sports a father could actually wound his child. It is a disservice to neglect a child’s natural gifts that will serve them for a lifetime.
However, if a dad under-emphasizes athletics he could also do his kids a great disservice, too, because sports teach valuable life lessons like self-control, discipline, and mental toughness.
My caution to all parents and specifically to fathers is to take a good look at your approach to your kid’s athletics and be sure that you do not fall into one of these two extremes. Because your input and influence carries tremendous weight, and your son or daughter will follow your lead.
Fathers, I truly believe that athletic participation can be either a lifesaver or a lead weight for your kids, depending on your emphasis and your kid’s personal bent. So be intentional and mindful to guard their athletic experience, taking advantage of the opportunity to positively shape their character for life.