So pretty much everyone on the planet would be OK with this scenario, right? Your child takes up sports, helps win the state championship, goes to Harvard and then suddenly finds herself in, say, the WNBA or whatever league is at the top of her game, dazzling the world with incredible displays of awesomeness.
Sounds kind of cool, right?
But how, pray tell, do you get there?
Before I get too far into this, I should back up and say I don’t care if daughter becomes a professional athlete or a garbage collector, so long as she is so freaking happy with her life that she sings to birds and they sing back. OK, fine, full disclosure: I’d also like her to be well-read and have a strong work ethic, no matter which field she chooses, but happiness is still at the top of the game.
But that said, I’ve been intrigued by the saga of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks’ “overnight” sensation who is taking the NBA by storm, and have been wondering how he does it all. This great New York Times article on his early family life fills in the backstory, tracing his upbringing in Northern California and his rise to superstardom.
I kept reading and kept wondering: Do you need to be a Stage Parent to raise a successful athlete-scholar?
His mother, Shirley, is described as “sort of a hybrid ‘Tiger Mom'” who did everything from carpooling to creating a new junior basketball league altogether, when the local competition proved too easy for Lin and his team. I really liked how the article also captured more nuance, saying that Shirley caught grief from her peers for allowing Lin to play basketball so much — something certainly outside of the prototypical Tiger Mom norm we’ve heard about since that book heard ’round the parenting world debuted last year. I’m sure all those friends are eating their words now, watching the Harvard grad rise to the top of his game.
Still, it sounds like Lin was pushed, and pushed hard, by his parents to succeed. This is all well and good, but how hard does one push on behalf of his children? Not only did Lin’s mom help create a new league for younger, more talented players, she also questioned coaches about Lin’s playing time and strategy. Do all parents need the same amount of involvement in their child’s talents?
When it comes to sports, I try to take almost the exact opposite route with my daughter. Yes, she’s 5, but I’m trying to instill the notion that the coach, not her father, knows the game and she should listen to him. My wife read an interesting article the other day — I wish I could find it and will repost if I can — about how elite athletes said they liked when their grandparents watched games. Unlike their own parents, who critiqued play and offered immediate “tips” and criticism, grandparents almost to a person said simple things like, “You did great!” Or, “It’s fun to watch you play!” I can see why a kid would appreciate those words of encouragement. But then again, if your kid has dreams of stardom, is that enough?
Reading Jeremy Lin’s story makes me think not.
In the end, Lin’s family life is shown in the article to have been a mix of hard work and fun — playing basketball made him happy and so his parents did what they could to keep him happy with it. I suppose it would be unfair to say Lin’s family life had everything to do with his rise — certainly like other top athletes, he’s a freakshow of genetics and fast-twitch muscles that, combined with years of hard work, allow him to do what others cannot.
But as a dad of a young girl who likes sports and dreams of being a jockey in the Kentucky Derby (something I’m actually really not comfortable with, considering some jockeys actually die each year) I’m intrigued by the upbringing of athletes and frequently wonder just how much of a role their parents play in that development.
And it makes me wonder whether my on-the-sidelines philosophy will change as she gets older and if she starts to really get into sports and wants to make a go at them. A parent pushes for his kid. Isn’t that our job? Although I try my best not to, I’ve offered those same “tips” that probably just annoyed her. There’s obviously no right way to raise a kid or encourage her in her favorite pursuits, but the article got me thinking of trying to be an advocate while also chilling out and remembering that sports are supposed to be fun. I hope I can remember that as my daughter ages. I hope other sideline parents will do the same.
The article is worth a read to get a better understand of Lin and the rise of a new cultural icon, and it begs so many questions on the roles we play in our kids lives that I’d love to hear your opinions.
Do you let your kids just play sports for fun? Do you push? Do you push too hard? Is it all worth it? It sounds like Lin is happy, so by that rational, I would say so.
What do you think?
Photo: The New York Times
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