The Helicopter Parents

When I started water polo, it was a relatively new sport in schools and not many older generations knew the rules.  My parents are sport mad and most of my days as a young child were spent on the cricket field supporting my brother. As I progressed in water polo, my parents learnt the rules slowly but even now my dad still says he can’t quite understand all the whistles. I remember getting out the pool after I had played an awful game and my mom came bounding up to me and gave me a huge hug, like I had just won a gold medal or something. With her limited knowledge of the game, she believed I had a great game, where here I am grumpy about how I had just played – she had no clue and was surprised when I told her. Yet her response was “oh well, there is always the next game”. I did not realise the value in this support at that very moment but as I have grown up, I am so grateful that my parents were just that, parents. They watched and cheered, never got involved with my coaches and never tried to “coach me”. They just did their job, to love and support me.

I am not a parent and I can only imagine how difficult the job must be and how hard it is to get it right. This article is coming through insight gathered as a player and especially a coach and I hope it can help highlight just how impactful a parent can be on their child’s performance in sport.

As I have got more involved in sport and especially in coaching, I have discovered the “helicopter parent”. The parents that hover and never quite let their kids explore and figure things out on their own. Parents who believe that they know more than coaches, get involved in coaching decisions and in some cases over step in many ways. While I have seen this exasperate a coach, disrupt a team and have negative effects on performance, I have also witnessed how this negatively effects a child.

There are two types of Helicopter Parents:

Type A:

The parent who micro manages their child’s schedule, get’s involved in every aspect of their child’s sporting life and lives their life through their child’s.

Type B:

The parent who negatively commentates and criticizes their child’s performance to said child and to others.

Here are the effects that each of these parents has on their child:

Type A:

The child never becomes independent. With the parent constantly micro managing and living through their child, the young adult becomes completely reliant on being told what to do, where to be and how to act. This leads to a child who misses out on learning valuable life lessons. You notice this often in sport where a child struggles to think for themselves, doesn’t know how to make high pressured decisions and struggles with confidence unless constantly being built up by their coach, parent or peers. Parents of the Type A tend to believe that their child can do no wrong and if said child does not make a team, get’s shouted at or has a poor game, it must be any one else’s fault besides their child.

Type B:

A young athlete knows when they have had a poor performance or when they have messed something up. As hard working athletes, we normally are our harshest critics. On top of beating ourselves up, we then have team mates and a coach who will tell us that we messed up… the last thing we need is for a parent to tell us too.  A parent who resumes the role of coach in their child’s life, breeds a child with anxiety and who can lack confidence. Imagine a child messing up in a game and their first thought becomes “my mom saw that, I wonder what she is going to say to me after”. I promise you, this is the power that type B parents have over their children. Instead of a young athlete focusing on their task at hand, they start focusing on all the times they mess up and what their parents are going to say. I have even had some children try and avoid their parents after a game or ask me if their parents are still outside because they were waiting in the change room to avoid them.

Coming from a coach, the best parent “norm” would be supporting your child in both their successes and in their disappointments. Building a relationship with your child that when they play badly, you are the first person they want to see, rather than the last. Staying out of a coaches way and letting them do their job and supporting them instead of blaming them when things don’t go the way you think they should. The “norm” is for a parent to watch on the stands, cheer when things are going well, cover your eyes and pace when things are tense but regardless of the result, be the rock that becomes the best form of support that a child needs.


stressed athlete

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s