When do parents cross the line?

Joe Pennell 31 October 2013

“We need a parental cultural revolution”. These words come not from a politician or social campaigner, but from Gary Lineker, ex-England footballing star and BBC presenter. Responding to news that the FA, currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, plans to introduce a policy of smaller pitches and possession-based games into grassroots football, Lineker’s words will resonate with many.

The basic problem as Lineker sees it, is an ingrained sense of competiveness injected into our players from a damagingly young age. Demanding parents are a considerable cause, in this view, of many ills in the present English game. A ‘long-ball’ culture that values physicality and results above all else is thus perpetuated by those parent-coaches who would rather win scrappily than lose playing the ‘right way’.

Too easily do Lineker and other subscribers to this thinking forget the vital role that parents play in sporting development. For those eight or nine year olds that travel twenty miles on frosty winter mornings to play football, their parents are often taxi, physio, coach and supporter all rolled into one.

This is not a matter confined to the football arena. ‘Pushy parents’ are a common source of negative press across the sporting world; from Judy Murray’s fist pumping at Wimbledon to Anthony Hamilton’s presence in the Silverstone pit-lanes. These would-be ‘maniacs’ are often shown in a poor light, unfairly demanding of their successful offspring in a bitter redressing of their own failures.

Demanding maybe, but these are not selfishly motivated parents. Just ask those successful sons and daughters themselves. Indeed, Lewis Hamilton has described his father as the ‘driving force’ in his career. Do parents not deserve to hold a vested interest in how their children do, given the time, effort and money that most put in?
Few have more poignantly expressed this parental investment than Bert le Clos, ruddy-faced and ecstatic after his son’s success at the 2012 London Olympics: “Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I’ve never been so happy in my life!”