This will not be the first or last discussion on parent and athlete interaction, before, during, or after their sporting event. However, I would like to take a bit of a different approach in this particular discussion since it’s coming directly from the athletes themselves. This will be the first part in a series of blogs that will touch on what is an age-old question. How can we change the uncomfortable feeling for the athletes and the eventual feeling of guilt of the parents when they criticize the player’s performance?

A recent poll of 21 athletes between the ages of 10-18 asked the following question:

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The responses revealed that for 47% of the athletes, parental criticism on the ride home is their biggest complaint. Athletes often have to listen to criticism on the way home and it’s not just after one game, but all athletic events. These same athletes listed their parents as being the most influential in their young career, but also stated how they would like their parents to “back off and enjoy their games.”

Although we didn’t peel back the different layers of criticism, we can probably think of a time as a parent or an athlete in a car ride home and identify the types of critiques that occur. Here are a few examples: the athlete didn’t hustle, play offensively or defensively enough, score enough points, catch enough balls, cover another player, get open, hit the ball, hit a homerun, steal a base, make the perfect pitch, take the shot, strike someone out, attempt to score, beat their previous time or do what the parent did when they were a kid, and so on. You see, in the parent’s mind (since the visual aspect of a performance is more apparent), their child is always much better than their performance indicated. Each time the athlete doesn’t live up to the parent’s expectations, a discussion on that performance will be forthcoming after the game. The list could have gone on and on as to examples of the critiques parents have given, but the relevancy of the issue is in how the recipient (athlete) is going to feel after they have listened to the criticism on the car ride home.

I believe it is also important to note that 33% of the athletes in the poll indicated, “their parents were very supportive and provided positive feedback.” This is definitely a sign that parents are working to improve on their relationship with their athletic child.  Even supportive parents can share feedback that is viewed as criticism by their child. What I sought to gain from this poll was how this issue impacted an athlete’s willingness to continue down the path of a sport they truly love and enjoy versus calling it quits because of the feelings of pressure that often comes from the car ride home. Parental pressure and criticism is one of the leading causes of athlete burnout. There are various drivers of this behavior and we will discuss those in a future blog.