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Are pushy parents needed to develop elite athletes?

In sport there seems to be a large stereotype that developing young athletes have ‘pushy parents’ that stand on the side-lines running up and down shouting instructions to their children on the pitch or parents arguing with the umpire or referee about their judging or scoring. But, is ‘pushy parenting’ key to the success and development of a young athlete?


Parents are key to the development of elite athletes. A parent’s involvement is key towards pushing their child towards a particular sport. Also, how involved the parents are shows how important to the child they deem their sport to be. For example, a more passive parent will show the child that their sport is less important and therefore the child will be less likely to participate and practise to become an elite athlete. Parent involvement is also key as the child will need to provide transport to and from pratices and competition, financial support for fees, equipment and other expenses during the season and also encouragement.

Sport personality star and US open winner, 19 year old Emma Radacanu stated “My parents played a huge part in my upbringing and they were pretty tough on me when I was young, but it kind of shaped the way I am.’ She also stated they were ‘hard to please when growing up.’


Another example of an elite athlete who grew up with ‘pushy parents’ is golf professional Tiger Woods. In his documentary he comments on his father’s influence in his development as a golfer. His father: Earl Woods encouraged his son to play golf from a young age. Earl Woods was a ‘pushy parent’ and sometimes would not let him eat dinner until he had hit numerous golf balls. Some may see this as cruelty, but Tiger Woods states that pushy parenting is integral to the development of young athletes.

this practice.


I have recently watched Frankie Dettori’s documentary, a three-time champion jockey. Throughout the documentary it showed the involvement of his father. His father was a successful rider and wanted to see Frankie follow in his footsteps. His father supported him by buying him a pony and sending him to training. However, whilst growing up and still to this day he states that ‘my dad has always been a massive critic’.


I personally believe that to become an elite athlete a parent’s involvement is key. Most elite athletes whilst growing up have experienced ‘pushing parenting’. Many studies have been undertaken to show the impact of pushy parenting on the development of young athletes. There are also many factors to consider in the development of young athletes to determine if they reach elite status, for example early specialisation in sport is key to becoming an elite athlete. However, although I believe that ‘pushy parenting’ is needed, I also believe that sometimes this can be harmful to the young athlete as they may feel that they are not good enough and therefore develop avoidance behaviour which could cause them to decrease participation or stop participating in their sport fully- this is one of the major causes of mass dropout in youth sport. Overbearing and aggressive parents can create a toxic environment for the team or child which can dampen the excitement of competitions or matches. Many studies have shown the negative impact of pushing parenting on the children’s mental health with a heightened risk of anxiety and depression. Therefore, I believe there needs to a balance in parenting.

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