Field of Dreams
The Psychology of Baseball Dads and Dance Moms
There is no place where egos are on full display like a Little League field. I'm not talking about the tempers of little boys in ball caps—they're kids trying to have fun. No, I'm referring to the bravado and brashness that spews from middle-aged onlookers in the stands. You know the type: the loud, overbearing parent who responds to what is happening on the field as though they are watching game seven of the World Series.
Whenever the intensity of a reaction is not commensurate to a situation, I invite people to be curious and consider why. You don't have to look too far to find an aggressive Baseball Dad or see a similar version of this behavior displayed by an overinvested Dance Mom. What is behind the psychological profile of these parents? They're players in a fantasy on their own field of dreams.
"The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of his parents." - Carl Jung
Being a parent is hard. When we bring a child into this world, the surface level of our vulnerability increases. Children are, to a limited extent, reflections of their parents. But parents need to stop treating their kids like a second chance to live their own unrealized dreams.
Your child's calendar is not where you can work through past regrets about what you didn't do or what "could have been." That kind of stuff is for the therapy office, not the stands. This is their chance. Let them have it. Don't blur the lines between your children's activities and your self-worth. It's true that you probably won't play pro ball beyond a certain point in your life, but it's never too late to pursue things that matter. Our ability to achieve doesn't time out. When parents permit themselves to pursue their own dreams and goals, they are less likely to pressure their kids to pursue a particular path on their behalf.
It's natural to want the best for your child. Most parents want their kids to have more opportunities than they did. Great. Encourage and support their interests. But periodically check yourself to make sure the things you are committing to are actually what your child wants. And, please, avoid the pressure to overschedule your kids.
When it comes to youth sports, somewhere, things went way off the rails. Competition and pressure started to crowd out fun and cooperation. Parents feel pressure to keep up with what they see their peers doing and, as a result, over-enroll their kids. In extreme (but not infrequent) cases, families are now spending most of their nights and weekends at events, hemorrhaging thousands of dollars, and traveling around the country year-round to set their child up for "success." Adults reason, " For my child to be competitive, this is what we have to do because everyone else is too." Unfortunately, in many cases, overscheduled childhoods hurt more than help.
Radically accept the odds that your son probably won't pitch for the Yankees. It’s unlikely he’ll even play ball in college. When your daughter is in her thirties, the impact of her competitive cheerleading career will be negligible (unless it permanently jacked up her body image). For their sake, don't take things too seriously—it spoils a love of the game. Kids carry what parents scream at them from the stands long after they outgrow their cleats. They remember being humiliated by their parents’ behavior. They internalize signals that to be loved, they must achieve. I know these things to be true because they come and tell me about them in therapy as adults.
What will make the biggest difference in the lives of your young athletes? Understanding how to be an effective team player. Developing perseverance and grit. Learning how to resiliently rebound from failure and disappointment. Take care not to get in the way of these lessons. Model character, and don’t let your behavior inhibit these valuable skills coming online.
When it comes to your kids, think about the games you're trying to play. Get curious and be honest about your motivations. Make sure that, in the end, your child isn't the loser because of the choices you made.
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If you’re interested in more strategies for managing stress, raising your EQ, and increasing self-awareness, don’t miss Finding Joy: