Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Play It Again Sports

I typically haven't extended one issue beyond a single blog post with (at most) an update in light of new information. But clearly I had a lot to say about sports, quitting them, and the effect this has on the participants, and the topic just won't go away! Yesterday a single dad wrote in to Abby expressing concern that his son has totally lost touch with reality due to his success in sports and the way this has shaped his perception of himself:

DEAR ABBY: My youngest son, "Trent," is 17. At a very early age it became apparent that he was a gifted athlete. Years of stellar performance in baseball and other sports have elevated him to a high social status -- and it has created a rift between us.

Trent has become unmanageable. He regards my influence, direction and discipline to be nothing more than a daily hindrance. Somewhere in the sports mania, I lost control as a father.

As his only parent (and support), I wonder how many other parents are really aware of the crushing burden and peer pressure these young people experience in the quest for athletic perfection. I have and always will support my son's goals, but I see a disassociation with reality while he revels in his status. A college scholarship is a given.

Is my issue unique? Do you have any advice for me? -- SPORTS DAD DOWN SOUTH

My question is, back to the issue I was addressing the other day, who got "Trent" into sports in the first place? Who made sure he was on the right teams and had the right specialized training to always give a "stellar" performance? Has "Trent" really changed, or have the circumstances simply changed, and now he's calling the shots (as it were) instead of Dad, while baseball (and other sports) remain the core of the family as they always have? Has Trent really been shaped by "peer pressure"? Or parental pressure? As a parent you can't argue that a child has "somehow" been intensely and obsessively involved in any activity without considering who paid for the lessons, who did the driving, and who set the tone for wins, losses, success and failure in the household.

Abby's response focuses on the dad's need to gradually trust and let go--as any parent must of any child leaving the nest--and hope that the values and skills he imparted to his son will serve him well as an adult:

...There comes a point when parents have to start trusting that the values they have instilled in their offspring are deeply rooted enough to guide them in the right direction in the coming years. You cannot supervise and influence your son much more than you already have. So my advice is to keep the lines of communication open and to start letting go. Life will teach him lessons that will bring him back down to earth eventually...

She avoids the sports issue completely, which is probably more objective and more to the point, addressing the real crux of his trouble. I just can't help but feel that the dad wants to be screaming, "I've created a monster!"...only he's unwilling to take the responsibility for it. You can't blame athletic prowess for creating a rift between you and your son--plenty of gifted athletes love and respect and are close to their parents. Intense sports may add pressure for both of you--but that means you can't just blame him, or the sports and not examine your own role. This didn't just "happen." Everyone has a part to play.

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