All too often sports fans, coaches and even parents get so caught up in the importance of a game or an outcome that they completely forget the inescapable, yet critically important fact that athletes are actually human beings! When you come right down to it, no matter how talented or strong an individual may appear, no matter how great their accomplishments or what level they compete at from PROFESSIONAL right down to JUNIOR athletes, they are all more simply human than otherwise!
They have feelings, vulnerabilities and sensitivities just like anyone else! Like all of us, they suffer from their own brand of emotional problems. In their own ways, they are awkward and insecure. They have plenty of unseen weaknesses to go along with their more visible strengths. Despite the fact that we may sometimes look in awe at them, athletes are not immortal Gods. They are no more immune to ridicule, criticism and hurtful attacks from the outside than you or I.
The younger the athlete, the more sensitive and vulnerable they are to this criticism and abuse. While they may perform like no other on the field or court and thus put up an illusion of incredible strength, their athletic prowess is simply the tip of the iceberg or one very small part of who they really are as a person. Unfortunately, at far too many levels that our games are played on, coaches, fans and parents make this costly mistake of myopically viewing athletes in relation to how they performed today!
At a professional level, “fair weather ” fans love their team when they’re “on” and winning and want to “throw the bums out” the minute they begin to struggle. Shamefully, coaches who don’t win “enough” get the axe by “fair weather” management, not only in the pros but in college, high school and even junior level sports. Just like in the athlete’s case, the barometer that’s used to measure a coach’s worth as a human being and in his/her job is narrowly defined by a won-loss record.
Coaches are equally as guilty in narrowly defining the value of athletes. Just as long as an athlete continues to “produce,” he/she is well liked and respected by the coach. However, should that athlete get injured or for some other reason start to slump performance-wise, that athlete completely falls off the coach’s radar screen. The coach does a complete 180, limiting or stopping the kid’s playing time, ignoring him/her and/or becoming downright abusive. I’ve watched this despicable and abusive behavior happen again and again with far too many preadolescent and adolescent athletes. The result can be emotionally devastating and the effects are usually long lasting!
Sadly, this same near sightedness also happens with the parents of athletes. They are loving and kind as long as their sons or daughters are performing to their own expectations. However, should their child begin to struggle, these parents openly show their frustration, disappointment and anger, withdrawing their love in the process. The message that gets communicated to their child is painfully clear: “You have to perform for my love and I will only love you when your performance is good enough.”
Much of the sadness and pain in youth and high school sports are a direct result of parents and coaches failing to take into account that there is so much more at stake in the sport than performing well and winning. Our children’s future emotional well-being and happiness hangs in the balance here. How fast they go in their race, whether they throw their tumbling pass or balk, score in double figures or win the tournament should have no bearing on who they are as a person, their self-worth or lovability. Don’t jeopardize your child’s mental health and relationship to him/her by confusing their value in the world by how they perform in an ultimately (in the long run) meaningless game!