Helicopter Parents Hover Over Sports Programs
More by Jay Alter
NEIRAD enilno edition
Every athlete at least once in his or her lifetime has the satisfaction and glory of victory. Whether it is the game-winning goal or a three-point buzzer beater, part of this honor is the journey taken to get there; the fight to be number one; the experience of holding one’s head up with pride and dignity.
There is something about achieving an individual goal that makes winning an experience unlike any other. It’s the drive and motivation each person contributes that enables a team to reach its full potential.
Yet, this competition is losing its purity. You used to work hard to try out and make the team and then with the elite group of kids in the sport go on and try and win an FCIAC or State title. How can the glory and success of a championship be achieved if a parent short circuits the process by getting his or her child on a team for which they have little to no athletic capability?
One would think that high school athletics would offer a student who is hard working and truly talented the opportunity to show coaches what they are made of on the field. However, this meritocracy is not always put into play. Unfortunately, some DHS athletes aren’t being fairly judged on their athletic ability, but rather on the fact mom and dad will not tolerate their child being cut from the team: a phenomena growing with ever-increasing frequency in the age of over parenting in America.
“I think parents push their kids too hard sometimes whether it’s on a sport’s team or at school, my parents do it to me, and at times it can be really annoying,” sophomore Cal Kevorkian said.
The most surprising thing I’ve seen especially with parents from other towns at hockey, lacrosse, basketball games etc. is that they’re putting the same level of pressure on kids as young as six years old who haven’t even reached the middle school level. When kids are that young, it’s those incentives to win that some parents cannot separate from the love of the game and playing a sport just for the sheer fun of it.
Girl’s varsity hockey assistant coach Jamie Tropsa says he’s seen quite a lot of negative parental involvement at the hockey rink directed towards younger kids.
“I was walking down the side of the rink and a game had just ended. Coming off the ice was an assistant coach of a mite travel team, mites are eight and under. I tried to say "Hi" to him but he barely acknowledged me. I continued down the side of the rink and I heard him throw the bundle of sticks on the floor and start screaming at these little kids. As I was returning, the head coach was walking very diligently into the locker room and he proceeded to enter the locker room and close the door. He began screaming at his team. It was so loud, I had to stop and just wonder why someone would need to do that to these young kids who had just won the game 3-2,” Coach Tropsa said.
However we must realize that with such a broad spectrum of children getting involved in sports ranging from ages as young as six to 19, parents who over manage their children’s lives make up a small percent. I personally think that the majority of parents are able to handle their children being on a sports team because they want to see them to do something they love and enjoy and will do anything to support their passion.
DHS Athletic Director John Keleher agreed. “The football parents are a great example. Without their help and support, the program would never be what it is today,” Mr. Keleher said.
In a time of ever-shrinking budgets it is often the parents who help keep things financially afloat. Many sports would not be as successful if it weren’t for devoted parents. But I’m here to shed some light on the small percentage of parents who find it necessary to usurp a coach’s role.
The high-school sports experience provides a chance for kids to play at a level where the coaches are no longer solely a mother or father. Now the child has become a young adult who is taught by fair, unbiased, knowledgeable coaches. Unfortunately, these coaches are finding it harder and harder to do their jobs with parents breathing down their necks.
For example, last year the girls’ freshman lacrosse team was forced to settle on a solution that generated a lot of controversy during the 2009 season.
It started with one parent calling to see whether his or her child could be put back on the team just to attend practices. The coach agreed to allow that athlete to attend practice. This decision started a chain reaction causing several parents who also had their child cut to ask if they too could have their child practice with the team. These girls were placed on the team with the understanding that they would only be allowed to practice with the players. However as time went on these girls started to play in the games, some even getting more playing time than athletes who actually made the team.
“Practices were much more difficult to manage especially for our coach with the overload of players,” sophomore lacrosse team member Lilly Cassidy said.
“The original players that made the team got less playing time due to the cuts that got put back on the team. It wasn’t fair,” member of freshman team, Katherine Dostal said.
This year the problem was fixed by varsity coach Lisa Lindley who did not allow any kids that were originally cut back on the team as a practice player at all three levels. (freshman, JV, Varsity.)
Dave Ruden, a sports writer for the Stamford Advocate, who has been covering high school sports for more than 16 years, sees this situation through a similar lens: “Parents have become the biggest problem in high school sports. The kind of problems they caused have hurt every sport and caused coaches to stop doing what they love,” Mr. Ruden said.
Another Blue Wave team that has endured many ups and downs this season and past seasons is the cheerleading team. One cheerleader (who wishes to remain anonymous) said parents complained about the hairstyle the captains had decided on for an upcoming competition. This look required the girls to wear curlers to school. The parents said it was hazing because the girls would be made fun of and laughed at while in class.
Darien High School Class of ’09 graduate, and last year’s cheerleading captain, Emily Deleo, commented, “We were trying to have fun and look good for the meet and everything went downhill fast…the captains got called into the office and the administration said we were in trouble for hazing and we had no idea why.”
Last June, the cheerleaders started the season with no coach after its coach of four years, Lisa Damiano left to teach at Norwalk Community College. Even with no coach, the athletic program allowed 20 girls to try out. However, none were cut. The reason: the captains were told by the athletic program that they were not allowed to cut any of the less-qualified girls because more than one parent made a complaint to the superintendent. With no coach to help them fight back, the captains had to go along with the decision.
Fast forward to fall of 2009. The cheer squad had a new coach in place. AJ Dixon had stepped in to lead the squad. Dixon soon inherited the challenges with parents over hairstyles once again to a longtime tradition where the girls give the senior football players goodies before games. The outfits the girls had to wear to school the day of a pep rally or football game also engendered much controversy.
Senior captain Meg Murphy said her 2009 season as captain was affected by these outraged parents. She resigned in October rather than continue to face the parental involvement.
"It has always been a privilege of the captains on any team, to decide on what the team wears to look more unified. Brittany [Sipple] and I were excited to finally get a turn, but our very basic ideas, such as ponytails with a poof, were quickly shot down by some parents over and over again. It seemed they were unhappy unless they got their own way,” Murphy said. (Full disclosure: Meg Murphy is the sports editor for Neirad)
However not all parents feel this new method of parent behavior is the most beneficial path for their child.
“A parent's role is to support and encourage participation in sports without placing unrealistic expectations on their children while simultaneously maintaining a proper perspective on the significance sports should play in their life.” parent Paul Archey said. Mr Archey has two children who have played sports at the high school as well as one sophomore currently playing at DHS.
“Unfortunately, It’s (parental over involvement) gotten worse over the past years, I believe it’s a societal problem, parents micromanage their kid’s lives. You see it academically and it has crossed over into athletics, kids are treated as puppets and the parents must pull every string. Part of learning how to succeed comes with experiencing failure,” Mr. Ruden said.
There’s still one question that remains: is there any way to stop this infiltration? The Greater New Milford Spectrum editor, Norm Cummings said, “Coaches have little leverage to use against parents unless they’re backed by administrators and, sadly, even the best of administrators are afraid these days of offending parents.” Cummings has covered high school sports for more than 30 years in Connecticut.
So who’s to stop these parents from controlling all aspects of which kids are put on what teams, or how much playing time each player gets? When it comes down to it, athletic ability as well as downright fairness will continue to be jeopardized because of the actions of a few selfish parents.