• Mon, Jan 6 - 12:00 pm ET

HBO’s ‘State of Play – Trophy Kids’ Is An Excellent Example Of How Not To Be A Sport’s Parent

HBO state of play Trophy kidsEvery parent wants their kid to succeed doing something that their kid loves, whether that be chess, ballet or football. But in the HBO documentary “State Of Play – Trophy Kids” we see a perfect example of parents of young athletes who take their enthusiasm to the extreme, and come off as overbearing, overzealous and downright abusive. It makes one wonder where the fun went when it comes to playing sports. We have all heard there’s no crying in baseball, but there’s a hell of a lot of crying in baseball, football, tennis and golf in this new documentary.

There’s a lot of talk about “effort” in the documentary, and how much effort and commitment these kids are making, and it’s astounding to me that none of them have snapped yet and refused to continue playing the sport their parents are so adamant about them excelling in. There’s no joy in what these kids are doing, at least none that we are shown in the movie. Golf dad André swears at his nine-year-old daughter Amari and calls her a bitch when she misses the shot. Basketball dad Steve talks about not working since the year 2000 so he could devote all of his time to training his son Derek to be the best on the court, including pumping him full of supplements to make him grow taller. The one mom featured on the show, Jamie, who trains her twin sons in tennis with a mixture of devout Christianity and new age platitudes, lecturing them on how it is God’s Will they become the best in the sport. The saddest story of all, as previously pointed out by our reader Jessieface, belongs to Justus, a 15-year-old aspiring football player who has a dad named Josh who is simply put, an emotionally abusive monster. For the majority of the movie we see Justus holding back tears as his father berates him and calls him an idiot and demands answers to questions that no kid should ever have to reply to, much less for simply not understand what his dad expects of him during a practice in the park.

My own kids don’t play sports competitively, so it’s hard for me to understand the whole mindset of wanting to raise a kid with the end goal for them to become a professional athlete or an Olympian or receive a sponsorship. I do know what it’s like to what your kids to succeed , I’m very interested in my own kids getting good grades in school, but I have never lectured them or yelled at them until they were on the brink of tears. I guess in my own life I have never seen any goals or greatness achieved with some of the tactics the parents in this movie use, withholding love until someone acts how I want, screaming at someone until they break down, forcing them to do something until they get it right. It’s an amazingly difficult movie to watch.

I’m sure State Of Play: Trophy Kids is an extreme example, I mean it has to be in order to make an interesting movie, but I think any parent who has a kid who plays sports can see a lot of similar behaviors in other sport’s parents, especially a dad like Steve who sidelines games and referees the whole thing by screaming at the players on the court and their own kid. I think we have all seen that parent, but probably not to the extreme of spending the amount of two Lamborghinis on coaches and training.

I think if your kid loves a sport there is nothing wrong with helping them excel at it. I think there is nothing wrong with a parent wanting their kid to have a good work ethic and to take a sport seriously and strive to be great at it. But I also think that if you get to the point where your kid is crying more than smiling when playing that sport you are probably taking your own parental investment too far. None of these parents were advocates or inspirations or even coaches, they were just bullies living their own failures vicariously through their kids. Under the guise of doing what’s best for them.

(Image: You tube)

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  • pixie

    From my (limited) experience, I’ve noticed that kids are more likely to willingly work hard and put in a huge effort with activities they enjoy. If your child really loves soccer, then they will probably be out playing and practicing with a soccer ball every chance they get. If they have a passion for horseback riding, they’re probably going to be more likely to listen to their coach and make an effort to make the proper adjustments to their position, approach, whatever. My mom helps with a boy in martial arts who doesn’t have a natural ability for athletics, is just generally uncoordinated, but absolutely loves going to class every week and learning new things. My mom suggested he practice some things on his own at home, and his mother told my mom that the boy actually does practice really hard every day. He might never be the best there is, but the amount of effort this kid puts in for the sport he loves is heartwarming.

    Withholding love and screaming and yelling at a kid to “make them be the best” at a sport is a one-way ticket to the kid hating the sport in most cases. The kid might like the sport to begin with, but for most younger children, the point of organized sports is to have fun and make friends. Sure they care a little if they win or lose, but overall it’s not the most important thing. I feel bad for these kids.

    • Kay_Sue

      I think it’s a balancing act, too. For instance, my stepdaughter has, in short succession, been involved in piano lessons, soccer, ballet, karate–all of which she’s quit shortly after beginning. I do wish that her mother had been a bit more stern about “we’re only doing this if you really want to do it” and “stick with it, even if it’s hard, and see if it gets easier” instead of letting her bounce from one activity to the next. She didn’t really pick up positive lessons from the experiences, and instead learned you can flit from one thing to the next without trying when it gets hard.

      On that ticket, I can see encouraging your kids in an age appropriate way to commit, even if they aren’t in love with the activity, until you know for sure that they aren’t just giving up because it’s gotten difficult and they don’t want at it.

      On the flip side, you’re totally right that the extreme behaviors, like the yelling and withholding affection, are doing far more harm for kids than good. And they do care far less about winning and losing than they do about having fun and making friends, it seems.

    • ted3553

      I’ve got a stepdaughter who’s mother let her do the same thing. She’s done a million things all for 3 days each because as soon as she wasn’t instantly good at it or didn’t feel like going, her mom let her quit. You teach a really bad lesson by allowing that

    • pixie

      Oh yeah, for sure. Encouraging kids to commit to things is great and sometimes needs to be done, such in the case of your stepdaughter. My parents always asked if I wanted to do something before signing me up, but if I had decided I didn’t like it would tell me to stick it out for the amount of time they paid for and maybe I’d learn to enjoy it.

    • Kay_Sue

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Sometimes what you like is surprising.

    • anon

      Our rule was you had to participate for as long as we had paid for (semester, quarter, season). Won’t always work because of the way some things are paid for, but worked for us.

      BTW – anyone know how I can change my user name?

    • Roberta

      We did that too, though in school it was “you have made a promise to your teachers and classmates that you would do this. Keep that promise and you don’t have to sign up next year”. Especially for team things: you are making a commitment to your team as well as your parents .

  • Lindsey Conklin

    Yes! I saw this documentary. Pretty scary and heartbreaking–I can’t imagine how that kind of pressure feels.I just want to hug those kids and tell them they did a great job! (I’m not even a mom haha)

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      It was so hard to watch ugh, I agree. Hugs for them all!

  • ted3553

    I have coached kids for around 20 years. I coached all ages and many levels of excellence. First, the odds of your kid making it big are really small. In my experience, I could tell you by the time a kid was 11 if they had any shot or would just be a mid level athlete and I think if parents stood back objectively, they’d see the same thing. If they’re not on elite teams by the time they are 13/14, they are just not going to make it big (with the incredibly rare exception). That said, you do need to push your kids at sports, the same way you do at everything else. You decide if it’s just for fun or if you want them to be competitive and if it’s not simply a once in a while thing, you need to help kids learn discipline and to not quit as soon as it gets tough. I watched the first installment of this documentary and the parents are all way overboard. What they’ll end up with is a kid like Justus who’s dad called it when he said something like “and I suppose then you’ll tell me you hate football and don’t want to play anymore”. They;ll burn out and never want to do it again because their memory is their parent yelling and them never being good enough.

  • Jessieface

    The thing is, it seems this gets overlooked in favor of labeling ‘stage parents’ zealots. But THIS is the same thing, parents looking to use their childrens talent (natural or pressure built) as a means to live out their own dreams, or as a means to an end financially. It was just heartbreaking to watch, love and approval corresponds soley and directly with athletic success and ability. Andre calls his daughter a bitch for missing the hole – and then brags about how this is HIS dream, and he got his daughter to buy into it. Josh says no matter what, he will never tell Justus he did a good job, because there is always ‘room for improvement’, and about the only time he smiles is at his college football reunion. He praises the player on the field in ways he NEVER does his son. Though, honestly Josh is downright abusive and has a SERIOUS anger management problem – I also think he is either jealous of Justus’ natural abilities, or stuck reliving the glory days in his head.

    These parent are no different than the Culkin’s of the world, or the Lohans. Or the charming parents of “Toddlers and Tiara’s”. When does someone step in and call it what it is, abusive?

    P.S I am glad you guys watched it, so I can talk about it with someone!

    • pixie

      I competed in martial arts tournaments as a kid and I would see parents get all pissy with their kids if they lost. I’m glad that my parents, even when I got my ass handed to me on a silver platter (which was admitted rare, I was a decent fighter, though I was fighting mostly all guys bigger than me) my parents told me I did great. They gave me suggestions on how to improve, but never did they yell at me or belittle me for not winning.

    • SarahJesness

      I was totally thinking the same thing.

      And for why there’s less attention on this? Eh, sports are viewed in a more positive light. They’re seen as more constructive and having more benefits. But beauty pageants in general are a bit more controversial. By their very nature, they are inherently going to be at least a little shallow, and excelling at sports typically opens more and better doors than being a champion beauty queen. (that’s not to say beauty pageants get you nowhere, but you know what I’m saying) When kids are involved, you also have the “sexualization of children” controversy. Some of the same stuff applies to kids who work in the entertainment industry.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    The easiest way for a parent to kill a child’s love of anything is to become too involved. A good parent will make opportunities available and offer encouragement as needed, but will otherwise allow the talents to develop naturally according to the kid’s interests and ability. That’s how passions are born, from internal motivation and joy in doing something you love.
    I taught myself to draw and always had paper available, so I just did that about 3-4 hours a day every day for about… nine years.
    My dad signed me up for kung fu when I was a teen, and I was liking it, however, he started giving me his two cents (he thought himself a martial arts master without having ever completed any training) and I quit immediately. Why? If it was going to be about him instead of me, I wanted no part of it. I lost interest almost as fast as I’d found it.

    • SarahJesness

      This all reminds me of something I heard a little girl my sister used to babysit for say. The girl did a lot of beauty pageants, and at one point mentioned that she felt sorry for some of the contestants who, to paraphrase, had stage mothers. Yelled at the kids, and in the words of the little girl, “wouldn’t even let her eat candy”. This little girl loved her pageants, but I bet they were miserable for the girls who had it pushed on them.

  • Justme

    From what I gather in regards to these parents, I am not destined to be one…but I will admit that my husband and I are super excited about starting our daughter in soccer this spring and eventually basketball and volleyball. Not because we are looking for a big payout or interested in creating a super star, but because we LOVE sports. Not just in the “watch it on the weekends” kind of way, but in the “watching women come together as a team makes me well up with tears and causes my heart to burst” kind of way. I loved coaching because I loved mentoring young women to overcome obstacles, set goals and rely on one another. I want the same experiences for my daughter – the feeling of swishing a three and hearing the crowd go wild, or acing a serve to win the game…and even wiping off the tears of defeat or running lines for not meeting expectations. So many of my life lessons are directly tied to my participation in sports and I want my daughter to experience those same things. I hope this doesn’t make me a pushy parent.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      No, it is awesome, you are not pushy at all

  • Momma425

    My brother played baseball, and I knew a lot of the kids from his team (and their parents) growing up. There was one kid whose dad was like this- always screaming and yelling, and completely losing control over tiny mistakes. His son was a pitcher- a pretty good one as a metter of fact. Every single ball he threw, his dad would curse and shout from the stands. It was disturbing to listen to. The dad even got thrown out of a few games. Eventually, he learned how to “control” himself by going on a walk- we could see him pacing along the field and muttering to himself. I can only imagine what that poor boy had to endure at home, when the game was over.
    I always felt bad for him, so did the other parents in the stands. Ultimately, I noticed that as this kid’s dad whined and yelled, other parents stepped up and cheered the kid on more. Hopefully that boy heard the good cheers as well.
    I can understand, when you are paying thousands of dollars for a select sports team, private lessons, etc… wanting to see your kids do well, because otherwise it really seems like a waste of money. But sports shouldn’t stop being fun, especially at a young age. And kids should always have a safe place to go, and be told that their parents are proud of them, regardless of how many baskets they shot, points they scored, or homeruns they hit.

  • C.J.

    Both my daughters have been competitive dancers since they were 6. They are 8 and 11. They choose to dance not me. It is up to them to decide how much effort to put in. They know they can’t slack if they want to be a competitive dancer. This is the first year I have let them do a duo, they are doing their duo with each other. I didn’t think they were ready before this year for the pressure of being on stage alone or with only one or two other people. They will compete their duo for the first time this weekend. I have spent the last week talking to them about how their score is not what is important and to just do their best and have fun. I couldn’t imagine putting more pressure on them. It’s scary enough being up on a stage. I always tell them it isn’t important if they win anything at auditions, just to learn from the experience. Sometimes there are mothers berating their children for not winning, that just turns my stomach. Luckily those parents are the minority. I’m not trying to live through my kids, I want them to enjoy their experiences for themselves.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      you have pretty much the perfect attitude about this

    • C.J.

      Thank you. I want them to love what they do, not worry about pleasing me.

  • SarahJesness

    Pumping a kid full of supplements to make him grow taller? If they’re really the kinds of things that make him grow taller (and not one of those scam medicines) isn’t that like, illegal? It sounds like one of those things that would be illegal.

  • CrazyLogic

    My parents would always pay for classes on a monthly basis so if I ever felt like quitting, I would only have three more lessons/practices to go to in order to get what they paid for. Sometimes that amount of time was enough for me to change my mind and stick to it, but most of the time I was done and I knew it.

    The ONLY time they let me leave something before I had taken all the classes they paid for were dance classes. It was one of those ones where the parents weren’t allowed to watch the lessons (the teacher was trying to avoid Dance Mom scenarios), and my mother walked in a few minutes early to pick me up and found that I was kicking one of the support poles in frustration because I couldn’t do the stances and moves and all the other girls could and it was their first dance class ever too.

    She didn’t take me again after that, and I didn’t complain about it. (And I still suck at dancing)

  • logica

    I teach private art lessons for both children and adults, and I absolutely love it. But every once a in a while I will get a kid whose parents cancel with little to no notice because their child doesn’t feel like going to class that day and this sort of thing will happen like every other week until they stop coming all together. I think that kids lack the foresight to see that they will enjoy the lessons once they get started and may need a prompting to get them out of the door. That being said, no parent should ever behave the way these parents do and put such pressure to succeed on their children. I think some parent and child art therapy may be in order here, because these parents obviously aren’t very good at communicating with words.

  • Angela Kabvitok

    This show made me weep, for the children. These parents clearly do not see what resources they have, both in time, money, community access and children that strive hard to earn their love and respect. It’s okay to challenge your kids, push them, but only to be the best they can be, but threatening a nine year old girl to smack her in the mouth cuz she missed a shot, was painful and heartbreaking to see.