Your son makes his high school basketball team. You respond in one of four ways:
- Breathe a huge sigh of relief. He worked so hard.
- Buy the family matching t-shirts and plan to attend all of his games and cheer loudly.
- Brace yourself for the amount of time you will spend sitting on bleachers in a small, stinky gym.
- Tell all the other parents how talented your son is. Tell them how the coaches are building their offense around him because he’s so much better than the other boys, and how hard it will be for him to choose between the NFL and the NBA after he gets recruited by a Division 1 college.
If sports parents who answered #4, you may be a Wacko Sports Parent. You’re just so proud of your child and the long hours of training, the dedication, and the natural athletic ability.
Somewhere along the way, however, that normal parental pride has morphed into an ultra-competitive, bruising, almost fanatical support that makes these parents completely lose perspective.
Perhaps the fact that our kids were cheerful but average athletes gave me clarity. They participated in a variety of team sports. They experienced both the agony and the ecstasy: being on a team that won a city championship, scoring a goal in a big game, missing the buzzer beater that would’ve won the game, failing to make varsity.
Sports were wonderful life experiences for them. We knew they weren’t going to college on any kind of athletic scholarship, but we wouldn’t trade all that time spent on muddy cross-country courses or freezing lacrosse fields for anything because sports taught our kids grit, determination, humility, and camaraderie.
I could’ve done without some of the crazy sports parents, however. Oh, the things I’ve seen and heard.
Parents who swear at refs, heckle kids on opposing teams, or urge their kids to be nasty and unsportsmanlike (“GET HER! TAKE HER OUT!”).
The year our son decided to play football, the coaches made him center on the second day of practice and bumped the previous center. That kid’s mother spent the entire season “helpfully” critiquing our son’s stance and telling me all the things he was doing wrong.
Our daughter decided to run cross country in high school, and finished her first race with a personal best time. We were thrilled—until another parent watching the race ruined it for us. (“Is that your girl? My Jen just smoked her.”) When our son made JV lacrosse, we noticed that some parents of varsity boys no longer talked to us, or to our son, either.
Wacko Sports Parents never ask how your kid’s season is going. But they’ll fill you in on every glorious detail of their son’s athletic prowess. (“Nick is so powerful and strong. The baseball coaches are just amazed!”)
Why do wacko sports parents behave so badly?
Is this all about college scholarships? Because the odds of winning an NCAA athletic scholarship are miniscule. According to the NCAA, approximately 3.3 percent of the seven million American high school students who participate in sports will become NCAA athletes.
For students who do snag an athletic scholarship, the average scholarship award is less than $10,400 (and many are WAY less, since NCAA coaches often divvy up one scholarship among multiple players). The holy grail of a full ride to college only happens for Division 1 athletes in four sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball).
So get real, Wacko Parents. Unless your kid is one of the rarefied 2 percent, they’re not going to college on a full ride.
Let them—and the rest of us—simply enjoy the moment: the victories, the heartbreaks, and the sheer joy of the game. You’re ruining it for everyone else.