Over the years, I have grown more disgusted by the mainstreaming of borderline abusive behavior with children and sports. It's rather horrible how much money parents waste on children and sports. I mean waste as in buying $200 baseball bats that kids outgrow in 2 years when they will not play baseball even at the college level. It is a national obsession that has created 'stage parent' behavior in a much larger realm of childhood: sports.
There is the baby boomer issue of competition for status. Having your child succeed at sports is just another outlet for that. God forbid they just enjoy sports; they have to be the best at all costs. Part of the problem is 'success' stories from over the top, psychotic parents like Tiger Woods' dad, the Williams sisters' dad, Martina Hingis' mom, looking at it maybe every tennis players' parent. Does anyone think an 8 year old really wants to hit 1000 tennis balls each day? Does anyone think a toddler wants to hit a golf ball with real clubs? No. These are parental ambitions expressed through their child. Stage parents.
Previously, or at least I think previously, I blogged about an article on Todd Marinovich, and how it should be must read material for all parents of little athletes. It's a cautionary tale of pushing kids too hard. Marinovich's childhood sounds eerily similar to Tiger Woods' in that he has weird training that no kid should go through and an obsessed father/enabling mother. One is demonized, the other glorified.
Here's an example of Marinovich training: "A vision specialist made Todd wear prism glasses, stand on a balanced beam in a darkened room, and bounce a ball while reciting multiplication tables".
Here's Tiger Woods' golf training: "two years of psychological boot camp during which Earl dropped golf bags and pumped cart brakes during Tiger's backswings, jingled change and rolled balls across his line of vision to test his nerves".
One is a famous flame out, the other is the most famous athlete in the world. The results should not color how the process is evaluated. The Marinovich story is a cautionary tale. Why is Papa Marinovich's behavior becoming mainstream? Maybe not to the detail of diet and training, but overtraining for 9 year olds with .01% chance of becoming a pro athlete. Tiger's childhood from baby stage to present was not much different. What does a 12-18 month old gain from swinging a golf club? How does a parent start training a 3 year old how to answer questions from the media and think it is OK? I'd love to be his shrink, as there is a treasure trove of things to discuss. There's an economics term called 'opportunity cost', and this comes to mind here. What if the Woods family had encouraged Tiger down a different path? Even just being more easy going might have created a different golfer and definitely a different person. At what cost did that process, that special psycho training, rob him of being a more normal overachiever?
Just reading the SI article I linked to earlier this week, you will read quotes from a parent who either is the greatest con man-promoter in the world or is a true beliver that his child will change the world more than Gandhi and Buddha. I believe he was a true believer. Part of his zealot behavior could be attributed to a need to believe that what he did was worth it. Who else would be drilling a toddler to play an old man's game, handling reporters and then pimping him on talk shows? He crossed a line, and created a storyline of destiny that would validate his actions. He repeated it enough that he did believe it. In a lighter way, this behavior is going on across our nation. Parents may not admit it, but Tiger is that example they can point to in order to rationalize their behavior. There are far more flame outs than there are Tigers. Parents should pay attention.
This video is of Tiger at 3 on the Mike Douglas show. You know that at 2, Tiger wasn't arranging this appearance...