By Cal and Bill Ripken
Every parent wants the best for their child, there’s no doubt about that. But we as parents can sometimes put unnecessary pressure on our children, especially in the sports world.
As adults, we typically have a clear understanding of how hard it is to become a professional athlete. The percentage of kids who start out at tee-ball and make it to the majors is incredibly miniscule. But every parent who sees an ounce of talent in their child can’t help but hope that their child will be the exception—the fraction of a percentage who makes it to the top.
We have a pretty unique perspective when it comes to parenting young athletes. When we were kids, our dad worked in professional baseball. He managed minor league ball clubs. We got to see batting practice and spring training from the other side of the fence at a very early age. As we grew up, we both played in the big leagues. We were the talented exceptions. And now we’re both parents with young athletes in our families, and we’ve had to grapple with the same issues that all parents face.
A lot of people assume that because our father worked in professional baseball, it was a given that he would shape us into future major leaguers. They assume that we didn’t have a choice in the matter.
In reality, Dad never pressured us to play the game.
On most summer days, everyone in the house would sit down for our family dinner around one o’clock in the afternoon. We always ate early because Dad wanted to be the first one at the yard for a 7pm game.
Dad never asked us if we wanted to go with him. He never forced baseball on us. He understood that even though we loved the game, we were still kids and had other things we wanted to do, like go to the pool or meet up with friends.
He never asked, but he also never turned us down when we asked to tag along.
Dad understood that the desire to play had to come from within us as kids. We are sure he was delighted when we chose to pursue the dream of playing professionally, but it wasn’t because he had succeeded in pushing us along some predetermined path. He was happy because we were doing what we wanted to do, and he was there to help us along the way.
We as parents have to tread carefully when it comes to projecting our hopes and dreams onto our own children. Every kid who puts on a mitt, dreams of playing in the majors, and every parent wants to help their children achieve their dreams. But because we know how difficult and rare it is for a youngster to experience the dream of playing at the game’s highest level, we sometimes push too hard.
Anyone who has been a part of youth baseball has seen the overzealous coach who turns every practice into work. The parent who expects perfection during every game. The mom or dad who makes not-so-subtle hints that their child is the next A-Rod. The dad who drags his kid to the batting cages or the gym every weekend even though he might want to go bowling or play videogames with his friends.
Those parents have the best of intentions—they’re simply trying to help their child beat the odds—but they often fail to see the danger of burnout on the horizon. Push too hard and you may just push your child away from the game altogether, and that benefits no one. As parents, we have to restrain ourselves from pushing so hard in the ultra-competitive environment of youth sports. It is not our job to push our children along some fictional “ideal” path toward a career in professional sports. Rather, we should be a resource to help our children along whichever path they choose.
My dad could have easily “molded” us into ballplayers. As a manager in professional baseball, he had more tools and resources at his disposal than most parents can imagine. He could have told us that we had to go with him to work, to learn from the big guys, to work on our backhand, to practice our counter. He didn’t keep those resources from us, but he never forced them on us either.
He supported our inner drive to play. And it’s that inner drive that will carry your child further toward his or her dreams than anything you can do as a parent.