Parents pressure changing sports
These past couple of weeks retired tennis star , Andre Agassi has been all over the media. This attention came after information from his autobiography was released including a confession of a one-time abuse of crystal meth. An exert from his book was in this week’s Sports Illustrated where he proclaims his hatred for Tennis and that he has felt this way practically since he started playing. So then why continue to play the sport? “Besides loving my father and wanting to please him, I don’t want to upset him” that was the explanation Agassi gave for never quitting.
The comment Agassi made about why he never told his father he wanted to quit is upsetting but unfortunately not that hard to believe. The pressure parents are exerting onto their kids sports career is starting earlier and earlier. This summer I was privileged with the chance to train in one of the most prestigious gyms in the world. This place dedicates itself to potential elite level athletes and those who already are. Just becoming a member is a competitive process. I came in one day towards the end of a youth training session and was shocked at how young many of kids were in that group. There were at least four below the age of 8. I thought back to what my Saturday mornings consisted of when I was in second grade. They certainly weren’t inside a training center, focusing on my dorsi-flexion while my dad videotaped so that he could re-create this session himself when we went on vacation the next week. Actually I am pretty sure my Saturdays were spent with me counting down the minutes till half time in my soccer games, ready to spring to the bowl full of orange slices. I continued to watch these kids train, one boy took too long at the drinking fountain “hey I’m not paying for you to dilly-dally! Now stop being lazy and get back to work!” the dad yells. I quickly turned around not wanting to get caught staring and was caught off guard when I noticed that the other parents were actually nodding their heads in encouragement as if to say “right on”. I can’t possibly imagine that these young athletes are enjoying themselves at all and I highly doubt any of their parents care. Fun isn’t the goal of there chosen sport anymore it is success.
In his book Agassi tells a story about his early years of tennis. He recalls how his dad modified a ball machine to be quicker and harder than the usual machine. Andre was seven years old when his dad introduced him to the “dragon” and it was expected of him to return each ball back over the net which as much force it had coming over. Every day Andre was on the tennis court, going one on one with the dreaded monster his dad never letting up till the young tennis star perfected each shot. To ask to rest would make Mr. Agassi question his sons dedication and only result in further physical exertion. Eventually Andre learned how to hit the ball a specific way that looked accidental and at the same time sent the ball flying over the fence. This gave him a short time to catch his breath while his dad stormed off looking for the fly away ball. This is the time when Andre Agassi first began to despise the sport and he wasn’t even at an age where he could play in the junior league tournaments.
As the age becomes younger and younger that kids are required to dedicate themselves to a sport the pressure from parents is more intense and more common. Boys are going to the NBA at the age of 18 now and top division 1 volleyball schools are recruiting girls in eighth grade and receiving verbal commitments from them by their sophomore year. Soon instead of kids relating sports to fun they will only feel stress and not want to play. Those kids that do play and have expectations to live up to will quickly lose the joy they had for the sport and burn out before they even get to the highest level of competition or shortly there after.