The Greatest Burden a Child Must Bear

"The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents."

The above quote came from Carl Jung, the famed Swiss psychologist. He would have had a field day if he ever saw the parents of kids playing sports today.

Let me give you an example of "an unlived parent" by telling you the following story:

On a plane trip I was talking to an insurance guy who asked me what the National Alliance for Youth Sports was all about. I explained to him that we were all about addressing the problems that youth sports has, in particular with the behavior of so many adults.

The more I explained, the more he seemed genuinely interested. Then all of a sudden he interrupted me in the middle of a sentence.

"You know, you're talking about me," he said. "I'm one of those parents that used to lose it when my kids were playing youth sports."

He went on to relate a horrifying story about attending one of his son's swim meets. It was a really close race and when it came down to the last lap he was screaming "go faster, go faster," but his kid ended up losing the race.

After the event the father admitted that he had actually gone up to the edge of the pool and with everyone able to hear, said to his son, "you are the scum of the earth," and accused him of not doing his best.

"I've never been able to understand myself how I could do such a thing," the father said to me. "How could a father who really loved his son do such a thing?"

I hear a lot of these stories as I've traveled across the country speaking to a lot of groups and I've learned enough to know what question to throw out next.

I asked him what kind of an athlete he was when he was growing up.

"I was a swimmer in high school, too," he said. "But I was nowhere as good as my son, who I felt could get a college scholarship."

"You mean you didn't try hard enough?" I asked with pretended surprise. I could tell from his expression that he got my point.

Calling his own son "the scum of the earth" was really a projection of his own self. Without seeing it, he had burdened his son with his own need to feel redemption for all his failures in the past. Instead of seeing swimming as a chance for his son to make new friends, be part of a team, and challenge himself to bring out his full potential, he saw it as a second chance to become a winner. Living vicariously through his son, he would erase a lot of the regrets he still carried from his own sports career.

Even the most clear-thinking, loving parents have struggled with the "vicarious" dilemma; where does encouraging end and pushing begin when it comes to their child in sports? It is a question that has perplexed adults for years and has become increasingly difficult in today's society where what used to be the "sandlot" atmosphere has evolved into travel teams and has become all about the mindset of getting kids shown to the world, with more and more parents shoving.

And it's sadly hurting a lot of kids and families in the long run.