Several years ago I witnessed a father lose his job for going to his son's baseball championship. True story!
The father was one of those parents we all see in the stands who seem to live through every move their kid makes, while yelling and screaming throughout.
This guy's son's team qualified for the regional championship and having taken a few days off to watch his son play in the preceding games his employer told him if he took time off for the regionals he would be fired. Well, that didn't stop him and sure enough, he was fired.
I often have wondered why he, and so many of us (yes, us) are so wrapped up in our child's sports experience that we will go to drastic measures...like being fired.
I called on Dr. Dan Wann, a noted psychologist from Murray State University, and here's what he had to say:
Fred Engh: I have seen people do some very strange things when watching their kids play sports. Even violent things. Why do people get this crazy?
Dan Wann: It often comes down to the parent's belief that their child's success as an athlete is an indication of the parent's worth as a parent. Most parents have very high levels of identification with their child athletes and, thus, the adults feel that the children's performances are their own. The child's successes are the parent's successes and the child's failures are the parent's failures. Consequently, when the child fails, parents sometimes become abusive.
FE: What you are talking about is being vicarious. But beyond that I have seen something else that I call "love." It seems that many parents are very involved in their child's sports activity because they simply don't want to see their child hurt by things like not making the team, being humiliated by their coach or striking out at a crucial time.
DW: Yes, this is also quite common, as parents are attempting to protect their children. Most parents feel what their child feels and if their child is hurt emotionally via sport through the outcomes you mention above, the parents will also experience pain. Essentially, these parents want the best for their children and this can be stressful for them. One thing humans often do in times of stress is attempt to gain control over the situation -- and this is what you often see from parents. In fact, this stress can become so great that the parents will avoid watching their children play -- the parents simply can't take watching their child fail.
FE: You just described my daughter, who described recently that when watching her kids play sports it's like a "slow progression of torture." Now, for all those people out there that are being "tortured" what advice would you give them to ease their "pain"?
DW: I think the best thing for them to do is to try to remember that youth sports are, first and foremost, designed to be fun and enjoyable. Yes, children can get sad when things don't work out (e.g., they lose or make a bad play), but this is another way that sport can teach important life lessons. The overwhelming majority of children still enjoy playing youth sport even if they don't always win or they are not the "star" players. What parents should do is look at their child while he or she is playing. Is the child smiling? If so, that should be all the information the parent needs!
So there you have it folks. Good luck the next time your kid strikes out to lose the game.