The Curse of Modern Living (Part 7) – Pushy Parents

by Charlie_East_West on October 22, 2013


I blame the parents.

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra, just for you.”

Philip Larkin

A recent study by Utrecht University highlighted that pushy parents who go to obsessive lengths to make their children succeed are attempting to make up for their own failed dreams. The key factor, the researchers found, was that the more a parent saw of themselves in their child, the more likely they were to want them to live their own unrequited ambitions. This is just another piece of research that states the bloody obvious. The bear has entered the woods with an urgent need to have a shit.

This leads us into the dark and murky domain of the pushy parent. This can manifest itself in so many different ways. Whether through academic achievement, music or sport. Our Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has hardly helped matters. He appears to be the political gatekeeper for the pushy parent. Just look at his policy on Free Schools. He has opened the gates to parents who think that they know better than the educational authorities or teachers. He has allowed parents to set up their own bat-shit crazy curriculums with funding mechanisms that would be better served through enhancement of our existing state school structures.

I have a confession to make. I am extremely competitive. I am a prime candidate towards becoming a pushy parent. I do not know whether this was instilled in me by my equally competitive father, or whether I was just born this way. Whether it is a game of rugby, tennis, pool, monopoly or even a debate – I just love to compete and also to win. That is probably why I love sport. For me, it is not just about competing, it is about winning – but, not at all costs. Good sportsmanship and fair play are more important than picking up a prize, medal or trophy.

This family trait has now been handed on to my extremely competitive son. My son loves sport – in particular, football, table tennis and tennis. Mini East-West just happens to be a pretty tasty tennis player and has started to win tournaments across the region. But, since he has started to gain a reputation as a boy to beat, I have witnessed a deeply disturbing side effect. He is now suffering at the hands of gamesmanship and skulduggery from other parents. Some of the parents are quite frankly, bloody awful. Their behaviour includes coaching from the sidelines, cheating tactics and booing the opponent. I even know of one parent who has a dossier on all the local 8 year old players. The book has a page by page graphic of a tennis court with marked dots highlighting each rival players court positions and shots. The parent then sits down with their child before a match and tells their hothoused 8 year old child where to hit the ball during the match. Jesus Pole-Vaulting Christ – It is tennis for kids. It is not bloody Wimbledon.

The parental awfulness happens across other sports – I recently saw a parent haul their child off a football pitch during a match simply because they were not playing well whilst stating “you are a disgrace to our family.” I have also witnessed parents scream at coaches for bad tactics, argue with the coach about why their precious little darling child has not been picked for the team, and argue with the referees in a way that Roy Keane wouldn’t have even dared to do.

The FA have highlighted around 8,000 referees quit every year because of the abuse they get from players and spectators. The FA have also stated that thousands of children stop playing football because they don’t enjoy it when people are shouting at them from the touchline.

This is not good. It is hard-wiring kids towards angst and insecurity. Childhood is supposed to be fun. This is anything but fun. It appears that we now have many children who are forced to do things for their parents agenda rather than do what they consider as fun. Children are also seeing their parents behave in an extremely negative way on the touchline. None of this can be particularly healthy for an impressionable child.

I am all for kids having a wider hinterland – whether that be an interest in maths, literature, arts, science, sport, music or current affairs. It will made them more interesting and rounded individuals. But, to focus down on just one activity hothoused upon them by their parents is a bloody dangerous game to play. So many parents appear to be living a world of delusion whether they genuinely think that their child is going to be the next Adele or Andy Murray. Of course, someone will be – but everyone is chasing the golden ticket. It is a one in a million shot. It will inevitably end in tears, teenage rebellion and disappointment. To do something that genuinely interests the individual is the most sustainable and healthy route to success. To find that interest is the problem. What is the separation between kids who do something that they want to do rather than what is expected of them to do?

The whole thing is deeply disturbing and lacking in any sort of class or dignity. I recently spoke to my father about this and asked him (as he was a former rugby coach at both junior and senior level) whether this aggressive parental approach to kids sports applied in his day. He stated that he only ever came across this once – and when it happened the parent was told in no uncertain terms to remove themselves from the touchline.

Admittedly, when I watch my son play tennis or football I really want him to do well. He is my son after all. But, I hopefully recognise as a parent that a) he has to be left to his own devices to find his own way in doing something that he enjoys b) leave the onfield coaching to the teachers and coaches c) never ever get to know the other sporting parents too well – it becomes a minefield of competitive passive aggressive parental politics.

In this day and age, pushy parents will always lurk around the nearest sports ground or concert hall, but certain things need to be enforced to limit the bad behaviour from such parents. Coaches should be allowed to enforce banning parents who cross the line in terms of verbal abuse. Also, parents should be told to stay back from the touchline or court and let the kids get on with it.

Being a parent is a bloody demanding challenge. When a child is faced with any challenge, it is vital as a parent to show support. However, at what point does encouragement become too much? and at what stage does a parent move from being supportive to becoming a pushy parent? It is important for any parent to want the best for their child, but when it involves self delusional one interest hothousing, bad manners, abuse and touchline tyranny, it really does become time for the pushy parents to have a word with themselves and show themselves their own red card.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Charman October 22, 2013 at 11:13 am


Read ‘Red or Dead’ by David Pearce. This is the book about the life and times of Bill Shankley. Shankley was ultra competative, but in victory and defeat he was gracious to his opponents. It is especially moving after being defeated by Arsenal (in their double winning year) in the Cup Final he had time and the good manners to shake each of his opponents hand and say how well they had played and how much they deserved the victory. Or how when Liverpool were giving other sides a right tonking, the opposing manager would come up and say how their side was humiliated by Liverpool and Bill would reply ‘No, we just played well but we would never humiliate you’.

A true gent who knew where to draw the line.


Charlie_East_West October 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

Paul – great comments.

If there is humility within a parent, there is likely to be humility within their child.


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