Ann F. Caron, Ed.D
Psychologist, Speaker, Parent Educator.
Thank God For Pete Sampras's Parents
Thank God for Pete Sampras's parents. At a time when parents seem to be taking over their children•s sports' lives, Pete's parents set the example of the fully-supporting, non-critical parents. Should they have showed up at all his grand slam tennis finals? They certainly were present in spirit but knew that their anxiety could be reflected in their son's performance. Unlike the parents highlighted in an interview with GHS coach Betsy Underhill who expressed her concern about parents yelling and screaming profanities at players and coaches, the Sampras, both mom and dad, maintained remarkable restrain during the play and broke down with pent-up tears of fear and joy when their son finally won, breaking a long-held record for grand slams.
Looking fairly at both sides of sports, Underhill also criticized coaches who demean players and players who get angry when they make mistakes. Parents can influence both their children's and the coaches' behavior. If coaches are setting a wrong example by fostering rough play or not making a player sit out if he or she is unnecessarily brutal or ill-mannered, parents should, as a group, express their discontent to the coach and to the administration.
The seriousness of the over involvement of parents made national news during the same week as the Sampras win when a father in Massachusetts fatally injured another dad, a coach, because he did not like his calls during a 10-year-old practice hockey game. Perhaps this tragedy will force parents to demand civil behavior from each other and everyone else during athletics and drive the rage out of sports. Hockey often promotes violence on the ice. My father who was offered an Olympic berth in hockey (and chose law school instead) would not attend pro hockey games in his late years because the violence disgusted him.
Underhill is right. Coaches definitely can get carried away. When our son played in an important Junior Babe Ruth baseball game in Greenwich years ago, the opposing coach ranted and raved, yelling at his players unceasingly. Half way through the game, he dropped dead of a heart attack. We didn't know the man or his usual style of coaching but his style that day undercut his players at every move. Players need reassurance that they can perform, not barbs about their inability to do anything.
I can sympathize with parents when they are emotionally carried away with their children's performances. When another son played in the Greenwich little league, he was a fantastic pitcher, pitching no-hitters rather frequently. When I found myself getting upset at a little 9-year-old in the outfield who had the temerity to let a fly ball drop and ruin my son's perfect game, I decided that I could not attend his games if I was going to behave like that. I was becoming the kind of parent that I couldn't tolerate. After sitting out a couple of games, I changed. My cheering from then on focused on motivating the players, not expressing any disappointment, or keeping quiet - and keeping quiet wasn't easy. Even then I had to learn to modulate my voice. When the same son played basketball at Greenwich High, he reminded me that my voice stood out among the crowd and even though my words were encouraging, he was embarrassed.
I loved Pete Sampras' comment when he said, "I was thinking about them [my parents] throughout the match and the fact I was torturing them." Then he added, "They're obviously the reason that I'm able to play." This polite, personable star and his parents show us another way to achieve fame.