The New Trend: Sportsplow Parents

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Team cheer on my daughter’s college swim team.

Our kids had one swim coach who laid out the law to us (me and a fellow swim mom.) We weren’t allowed to follow our kids to the starting blocks, nor stand at the end of their warm-up lanes with water bottles and towels. We weren’t even allowed to sit on the same side of the pool with them at meets. They had their own space with their coach and no parents allowed! Can you guess how old our kids were at the time? I’m embarrassed to tell you they were in high school — and yes, I was still chasing my kids around with their towels!

It seemed really harsh and crazy to me at the time. Looking back, the coaches my daughter had during her teen years were trying to help our kids gain skills and independence they’d need in college. Yes, my daughter missed an event during this period of time. Something she’d never done before. Of course, how could she not miss an event with me standing by reminding her and her brother when to warm up, go to their lanes and get on the blocks?

When kids get involved at an elite level in sports, most likely their parents are by their sides ensuring they make it. It gets a lot crazier than my simple stories when you’re talking about the major sports and the possibility of millions of dollars. Instead of acting like a Ball, be more of a Darnold parent. I wrote about those parents here and here.

In Sports Illustrated, I read The Rise of the Snowplow Sports Parents By Kalyn Kahler. There are a lot of great examples in the story about parents overly involved in their kids’ sports careers and how many are turning their children’s athletics into full time jobs. Read the entire article here. I’ve included a few excerpts below:

In football as in other sports, they’re drawing up business plans, starting marketing agencies, turning up at practice and even monitoring phone use. But by clearing out every obstacle on their kids’ road to stardom, hyperinvolved moms and dads threaten to deprive young athletes of critical life experiences. And they’re driving coaches and agents nuts.

Arriving at his draft-night party, Dwayne Haskins Jr. steps out of a gray van with a large logo affixed to its side: a black circle with two white H’s that connect in the middle. The Ohio State quarterback makes his way past fans and media down a red carpet, printed with the same logo, and walks under a banner displaying the two H’s. The symbol is everywhere and—to the uninitiated—could be more than a bit confusing: There is, after all, only one Dwayne Haskins about to be drafted. So why two H’s?

As Haskins Jr. wades through 300 of his closest friends and paying customers inside the Bowlmor Lanes in Gaithersburg, Md.—$40 covered bowling, food and drinks—the person responsible for that second h stays attached to his hip. It is his dad.

Dwayne Haskins Sr. has meticulously planned the draft-night event not just to launch his son’s career but also to launch their new family endeavor: Haskins & Haskins Group, LLC, an entertainment, branding and event agency that he registered shortly after Junior declared for the NFL draft in January. He has the two-H logo tattooed on the inside of his wrist, as do Dwayne Jr.’s mom, Tamara, and 18-year-old sister, Tamia, an aspiring actor. (The QB plans on getting it later.) The second h technically refers to Tamia, according to Dwayne Sr., but there’s little doubt who the driving force behind the company is.

Haskins Sr., it turns out, is not unique. One NBA agent said two out of his eight clients have their own LLCs to handle marketing and branding opportunities, set up by parents soon after their college careers ended.

The article describes how parents now show up for basketball camp and stay the entire time watching in the stands. When we sent our kids to USC Swim Camp, they were gone for an entire week. We kidded them that we’d hang out and watch, but we did manage to rip ourselves from their sides and head home. They loved that week so much! I wonder why?

Here’s more from the Sports Illustrated article:

The overactive parent is as old a concept as sports itself, but coaches and agents across football, basketball, baseball and hockey say that over the last few years, parents have become more involved in their children’s athletic careers than ever before—and it is reshaping sports. After all, this is a burgeoning age of player empowerment. Salaries are higher, athletes can force trades and recruit teammates. Business opportunities are everywhere, from the phones in players’ hands to the shoes on their feet. But that also means there are more complex decisions to make. So parents are stepping in to ensure that not an ounce of potential is wasted.

The phenomenon also reflects what’s happening in the rest of society, says psychologist Madeline Levine, an expert on the topic. “It used to be helicopter parenting,” she says. “And now it is snowplow parenting, which is much more active: It means you are doing something to smooth the way for the child. It’s not just that you’re hypervigilant—it’s that you are actually getting rid of those bumps, which robs kids of the necessary experience of learning and failing.”

Not surprisingly, the trend is driving many coaches nuts. “When I think about my next coaching job, I think it should be in an orphanage,” says Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey. “I use that [line] at coaching clinics, and high school coaches give me a standing ovation.”

Call it the age of the sportsplow parent.

I’m thankful for learning how not to be a sportsplow parent. It certainly helped my daughter when she went off to college and swam. The coaches she had in high school taught us well — even if we didn’t understand it at the time. We needed to be trained to let our kids make it on their own. My mom liked to say that her job as a parent was to allow us to fly from the nest. She was right.

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My daughter’s pug Waffles on deck and ready to go.

What are your thoughts about sportsplow parents? Do you know any — or are you one yourself?

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