On The Radar: How Parents Kill Their Kids

We all know that parents love their kids. The sacrifices they make for their children are sometimes beyond comprehension. Parents will spend money for their athletes even if it means the parents have to go without. Parents will spend countless hours traveling to camps, colleges and events and spend even longer hours camped out watching their kids compete. Blistering heat, freezing cold, torrential downpours, almost nothing stops parents from supporting their athletes.  So how do parents kill their kids? There are so many ways it’s hard to narrow it down, but here are some of the most important examples.

1. Loving Your Kid Too Much

Parents, we all know you love your kids. That’s a great thing. You have watched them grow and protected them for nearly 18 years. And in your eyes, no matter how big they get, they are still kids. You will never stop loving your kids, but in sports and recruiting, can you love your kids too much? The short answer is yes.

There is a very fine line between loving your kids and loving them too much. All parents are proud of what their kids do. They want them to achieve the highest level of success imaginable. They want them grow beyond any limitations or boundaries. Parents want better for their kids than they had themselves.

Parents want this success and understandably brag about this success. They collect newspaper articles, save web pages, take photos, share photos, place stickers on their cars. There is hardly a limit to the level of fandom of a parent toward their child. But when does this fandom go too far? When you get college coaches involved.

In simple terms, college coaches don’t care. I’m not saying this in a bad way. I’m saying it matter of factly. Coaches have a million things to worry about in addition to recruiting. They have an every day job that makes considerable amounts of demands on their schedule. When you factor in recruiting it makes their schedule even more demanding. In recruiting coaches need to evaluate, contact, meet and interview dozens of players. They watch hundreds of highlight reels. They read and send dozens of emails. They travel for hours over countless miles and they meet with players all over the country.  Coaches care about their job. They care about the atheltes they are recruiting and one of these athletes may even be yours, but they don’t care about your athlete the way you do.  They never will.  You are the parent. No one can come close to caring about your athlete in the same way.

But what don’t coaches really care about? They don’t care about the mountains of minutia that you have collected about your athlete. It doesn’t matter what the Burlington County Times has written about your athlete, or what opinion some writer espoused in the Topeka Capital-Journal. Now if the coach is from that area and uses that paper as a valuable resource then maybe, but I can guarantee that Florida or North Carolina coaches wouldn’t care about a Maine or New Jersey paper. The opinions of these writers don’t matter to them. They have their own evaluation process that they have to follow. Coaches make their own judgements based on years of analysis and knowing what works best for their team.  The only time they would care is if ESPN or Sports Illustrated did a special feature on your athlete, and even then it only holds so much weight.

A coach has two major items that begin their evaluation process, the athlete highlight and academics. From there they begin to determine your athlete’s value and craft their opinion and direction. They don’t need and don’t want to see articles, awards, pictures, letters. Flooding a coach with this information simply acts as white noise. It just gets in the way and can hurt your kid more than it can help them.

How can it hurt your kid? Here’s an example:

A few years ago I was talking to a Division I coach about one of my athletes. We’ll call him Robby. He was a very talented player. He broke records at his position in the state. The coach knew him, many coaches knew him. He had an established track record and was a valued quarterback.

When I spoke to this one particular coach, we’ll call him Coach Phillips, we were talking about Robby. As we discussed Robby’s play-making ability and skill level Coach Phillips interjected. He said, “I like Robby, unfortunately I don’t like his father.”  I asked why. He said, “His father constantly sends me photos, articles, clippings and links about his son. He sends me something new almost every day. I don’t want to deal with a father like that. He is going to be a pain in the -ss. So I am no longer interested in Robby.”

It was that simple. Robby’s dad was SO proud of his son that he wanted to share his pride with this coach, but the coach didn’t share the sentiment and really didn’t have the time to read all about Robby every day. The coach didn’t care. He loved how Robby played. He loved Robby as a kid, but as long as Robby’s dad came with the package…..he wanted nothing to do with Robby.

Robby’s dad cost him a scholarship opportunity at a Division I program.

2. Being a Helicopter Parent

Most of us have heard the term “Helicopter Parent” before, and anyone in coaching knows full well what that means. For those who are not familiar, a Helicopter Parent is a parent that hovers around the team and most often the coach always interjecting their opinion most often when it is not welcome.

A Helicopter Parent can do a considerable amount of harm to their kid. In many cases they think they are helping, but in truth they are not. When a parent becomes a Helicopter Parent they are quickly labeled as difficult. High school coaches have a job to do and they have enough people to hear from on a regular basis. Athletic Directors, Boards of Trustees, Principals each tend to interject their own advice, guidance or directives. Some of these make it very difficult for coaches to do their jobs. When they are getting pulled left and right by differing bureaucratic viewpoints it can make it very hard to focus on the important things for the team. But the people that offer the most interference are the parents.

Parents are great when they support the team. They are great in fund raising. Many of them sacrifice money, time and extensive amounts of effort to volunteer for the team in many ways. Many parents become part of the team, part of the family. However, There are aways a few parents who simply have to get too involved. Those are the Helicopter Parents, and Helicopter Parents are killing their kids.

If you are a Helicopter Parent let me give you an honest piece of inside information…coaches can’t stand you. You drive them crazy and not in a good way. I understand the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”  Hell I embrace that motto, but even after you oil the squeaky wheel to keep it quiet…and it keeps squeaking…it’s time to get rid of the wheel. And sometimes getting rid of that wheel can really hurt your athlete.

The first thing to consider is if your kid can actually play. If you athlete cannot compete well and contribute to the team the way the coach wants, all the yelling and nagging in the world is not going to change that. The coach has to make difficult decisions that are not always popular. So they may not play your kids as often as you want, or as much as you want, but if you drive the coach crazy that’s just going to hurt your athlete.

Now we all know that high school coaches tend to tolerate more of this interference than they should. I’m not saying all coaches are exempt from criticism and interference because some of them are. For all of the really good high school coaches there are a healthy share of those who do just what they need to do to get by. Many of them just want that extra paycheck and do the minimum required to earn it. I call them “box checker coaches”. There are always going to be “box checkers”, but there are more often really good coaches out there who care about your kids. They can’t do everything that you want, but they will listen to you more than they probably should. Most of the time it is because your are being the squeaky wheel, and if they don’t oil you many of you will just run off to the Athletic Director or Board of Education and complain and that will bring that bureaucratic interference that coaches try to avoid at all costs.

So what happens if you are a Helicopter Parent and bring that mentality into college with your athlete? It’s not good. Here’s an example:

I was working with an athlete, another very talented quarterback. Let’s call him Brandon. By the time Brandon was in his senior year we already helped him get a Division I offer. He was going to a Big 10 school and was a verbal commit by August before his senior season. Brandon’s mother, we’ll call her Linda, loved her son a little too much. She was a very sweet woman, but she was also a notorious Helicopter Parent.

During one game Brandon took a hard shot on the field and went down. Linda leapt the fence and ran onto the field along with the head coach and the trainer. When she came back I looked at her and asked, “Are you crazy? You can’t do that in college you know.” She said, quite seriously, “Oh yes I will. That is my son. I am going to be there for him.” I hope she was kidding, but it turns out she was not.

After her Brandon left for college his mother moved out there to be with him. Now that wouldn’t normally be that bad until the day she wanted to know why her son was not playing enough. Brandon was only a Freshman and had to earn his bones. He was on the depth chart and would get in usually in garbage time at the end of a blowout to get some college level experience and exposure. Well, that wasn’t enough for Linda and she went into the head coach’s office to express her concerns. That is a HUGE no-no.

The Head Coach of any college program, and especially a Division I program, does not have any time to hear a parent’s complaints. Once your athlete goes to college, as a parent you should be seen and not heard, and the only time the coaches really want to see you is at a family function or in the stands. Your athlete is under contract with the college now. Your athlete’s relationship is with the college  coaches alone. Linda didn’t want to accept this and could not resist her Helicopter Parenting tendencies.

I don’t know how things went during her first meeting with the head coach, but I do know what happened as a result of the second time she went into the coach’s office. Yes, she did it more than once.

The second time the coach didn’t care to oil the wheel and wasn’t going to tolerate a continually squeaky one. You see in college they have enough money and parts to simply replace the wheel…and they did. Brandon fell off the depth chart. Another young quarterback was recruited and he was moved down the bench to the point where he wasn’t getting any time on the field at all. As a result Brandon decided to leave the Big 10 school and try his hand at playing somewhere else.

Did his mother go with him? I really don’t know, but I do know that he has his mother to thank for seriously ruining his college career.

3. Thinking You Know It All

One of the biggest problems I run into are parents who think they have all of the answers. Some parents know more than others, and some may actually know more about recruiting or the sport itself, but the vast majority, and I mean the VAST majority have no idea about recruiting and how it works. Most of what they get they read online, but reading does not replace experience. And the parents who think they know everything are often doing serious damage to their kids.

There are three types of parents: The ones who think they know everything; The ones who know enough to get by; and The ones who freely admit they don’t know anything. The first two pose a danger to the career of their athlete. The third type usually has the most success.

The parents who think they know everything cannot and will not take advice. In their minds they have the answers and nothing you tell them can convince them otherwise. I have been marketing athletes for nearly 15 years and still, to this day I have parents who try to tell me that they know more about my business than I do. My job is to help parents and their athletes, but when a parent has all the answers  and you can’t tell them anything, then it’s often best to get out of the way and let them make their mistakes.

Sometimes they will come around and realize they don’t know everything. Other times, even though they realize that they don’t know everything, they won’t admit it because they are too prideful. And as a result they are killing their kids. Here’s an example of the former:

I was working with a family, we’ll call them the Connelly’s who had a very talented athlete, we’ll call him Billy. Billy had a very good chance of going Division I, but nobody knew about him because his parents kept holding back on getting him exposure. They figured that since he was popular in New Jersey then he, by default, should be popular everywhere. That is incorrect. You can have the greatest product in the world, but if nobody knows about it then the product is worthless.

The Connelly’s wanted my company to produce the Athlete Marketing highlight for Billy and they wanted me to market him to colleges, but they kept holding back on pulling the trigger. Months would go by and we were suddenly into the football season. I recommended to Mr. Connelly that we start the video for Billy and start marketing him. He wanted to wait.

As we go deeper into the season, every time I happened to see Mr. Connelly, I would through him a not so subtle hint, “You know, time is ticking you may want to start that marketing now.” He was always too busy and always procrastinating.

Mr. Connelly is a very nice man. He and his wife are great people. They own their own family business and it is very successful. He gave back to his son’s team, the school and the community. He had plenty of money to aggressively market his son, but Mr. Connelly had a problem. He though he knew everything. Mr. Connelly knows some important and famous people and he made that known. He also believed that just because he knew those people that he was able to parlay that relationship into an opportunity for his son. The fact is, the people that he knew were not going to go out of their way to help Billy. Mr. Connelly overvalued his connections in the recruiting world, and as a result he dug Billy into a very big hole.

So now we are in November. The Thanksgiving game just ends and still no action from Mr. Connelly. So I approached him after the game, a game in which his son was injured by the way. Now we have an injured player who hasn’t started his recruiting. He is behind the eight ball in a big way. After the Thanksgiving game I implored Mr. Connelly, “We really can’t wait. It is so late in the game that Billy is losing opportunities.” In fact he had already lost opportunities, but I also knew there were many left out there.  The longer he wanted the fewer of them there would be. Still Mr. Connelly would not pull the trigger.

In December Mr. Connelly pulled trigger. He waited until after the championship game to get anything started. He had lost a ton of opportunities, and his son’s injury didn’t help at all. We produced Billy’s highlight, but Mr. Connelly chose not to hire me to market Billy. He thought his contacts would get him the results that he needed. As I expected, that was not the case. Billy had nothing.

Finally, In January Mrs. Connelly called my office and she said some of my favorite words, “Matt, We don’t know what we’re doing.” The quickest way to healing yourself is to first admit you have a problem. Mrs. Connelly finally did that and pulled the trigger.

It was incredibly late in the recruiting process, but they wanted Billy to go Division I FBS or FCS. Fortunately we were able to take care of them and Billy got offered a partial scholarship to an FCS program. The Connelly’s were happy. Billy was happy. That was the most important thing to me that my clients were happy. It all turned out okay, but the Connelly’s lost so many opportunities because they thought they had the answer and they waited too long.

Take the expert advice. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know everything. As I said earlier, the first step in healing is to admit you have a problem. Let the experts who do this for a living help you. Otherwise you are killing your kid.

4. You Listen to Everybody Else

Along with the parents who think they know everything there are parents who think that what everyone else says is gospel. Parents listen to everybody else and over value their opinions. Sadly, Most of the people who offer their opinions don’t know what they’re talking about. Evaluating your athlete is not a job for fans, friends or family.

I have heard far too many parents say that their kid should play Division I because “so and so” says so. Sadly, those people mostly have no expertise in properly evaluating an athlete. They don’t work with college coaches and don’t study film of the talent that’s out on the market. Most of their opinions come from their own personal bias, and wanting to sound important.

Everybody wants to act like they know what they’re doing, and in sports you have a  ton of people who act like they have a clue. Just listen to sports talk radio on any given day. You will have many radio hosts who never played professional sports, or any higher level organized sport, espousing their opinions and giving their “expert” insight on the game, players, etc. Then you will have hundreds of callers interjecting their opinions to those hosts. Some know more than others, but pretty much all of those opinions are worthless. They are simply opinions.

Parents tend to listen to the opinions of others especially if it coincides with what they believe. If they are hearing what they want to hear, then they will believe it, and take it as fact. That’s how they kill their kids.

One parent with whom I worked, we’ll call him Darren, had a son who was a very good basketball player. We’ll call his son Alvin. Darren and I were speaking and he said that Alvin had to go Division I.  I said, “He has the height, but he is playing out of position (center) he is too short at 6’5″ to be a center in college, and he does not have the skill set to play guard.”  Darren was adamant that Alvin was a legitimate Division I player. He told me that everyone says that Alvin should go D1. I said, “The only thing that matters is what the college coaches think. I talk with the coaches and they aren’t recruiting him at D1.”

He then told me that everyone says that Alvin should go D1. And when he was playing against a hotly recruited, legitimate Division I bound player he “shut him down” this season. I asked, “How many times did he play this D1 kid?” He said, “Once.”  I then said, “So, he had one good game against this kid and that means he can play Division 1 basketball?” Then I made a very simple statement:

“When Allen Iverson first entered the NBA he crossed over Michael Jordan one time….ONE time. Do you remember what Jordan did to him after that?” He said, “He shut him down.” I said, “Exactly. And Iverson never got away with it again.”

“Just because Alvin shut down a Division 1 bound player one time it means nothing. Now if he plays the kids 5 times and shuts him down 4 out of the 5 times then we’ll talk, but until then…..Alvin is not a Division 1 level player.”

Darren started believing everyone else’s opinions of Alvin. He didn’t listen to the expert who made a living studying film and analyzing players for over a decade. He didn’t listen to the coaches who make the final decisions for their teams and know what they need. He listened to some fans who are most often trying to over inflate their own self importance and giving him horrible and destructive advice.

As a result Darren never listened. He never learned. And instead of training Alvin as a guard and developing his skill set to make him more marketable, he kept trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And Darren killed Alvin’s chances at playing in college at Division I.

The Bottom Line, stop listening to everybody and their opinions. Employ the services of the experts who analyze players for a living. When a parent comes to me, I do not benefit from giving them bad information. My reputation is at stake and I want their child to have the best success imaginable. So I am going to give them the real deal whether they want to hear it or not, because only then do we have an accurate stepping off point where we can properly develop and market a player.

4. Undervaluing Your Athlete

While there are parents and fans who overvalue their athletes, there are just as many parents who undervalue their athletes. No matter what their athlete does it just isn’t good enough. We ALL know those parents and we have seen them. The kid can have a terrific game, but the parent only focuses on the mistakes made. That is a sure fire way to kill your kid.

At some level I love parents who undervalue their athletes especially when they bring them to me. I love it because through a highlight and hard work I can show them that their kid has a lot more talent and value than they thought. The difficult parents are the ones who undervalue their athlete SO much that they restrict their exposure to the college market.

Many parents constantly think that their athlete is performing worse than they really are and they let it negatively affect the schools where they could market their athlete. Often a parent will undervalue their athlete so badly that they will convince themselves, and their kid, that they can only play Juco or D3…or even worse not be able to play in college at all. Not everybody is the best evaluator of talent, but if you are a parent and trying to objectively evaluate your athlete, you most likely are doing it wrong.

Some parents are accurate in their assessment, but most of them and I mean the vast majority of them, are not good at remaining objective. Even some high school coaches have a difficult time being objective. They will say an athlete is and FCS caliber kid when they are actually only D3 if they’re lucky. But sometimes that’s all a parent needs to hear if they already have a preconceived notion that their kids is not valuable enough.

Example: I had a mother who brought her son to me, we will call him Eric. Eric had decent size for a defensive back, but his mother took the coach’s word as gospel when the high school coach said he was not good enough to play in college. As a result the coach did not pay him as much as he could have…or should have.

When we evaluated Eric’s film and built his highlight we were able to showcase his abilities in such a way that suddenly Eric was getting contacted by Division 3 programs, a few D2’s and even a couple of very small FCS (IAA) programs.

Even after seeing his highlight Eric received a boost in  confidence because he saw how good he actually was. He has bought into the biased, and incorrect evaluation by his coach as did his mother. Eric ended up going D3 by choice, and his mother was very impressed with the interest he received.

As a parent your best option is to remove yourself from the equation when evaluating your athlete. Go to an objective third party someone who has no skin in the game. I have often been accused of being brutally honest, but that is also why people like to talk to me about their athletes. Sometimes a non-objective parent needs some brutal honesty to keep them from killing their kid.

5. Overvaluing Your Athlete

Overvaluing your athlete falls very close to #1 “Loving Your Kid too much”. Far too many parents put entirely too much value on how talented their kids are. In most cases….they aren’t that talented.  Yes, There are very talented athletes, but I’m talking about the parents who have an inflated importance of their kid when their kid doesn’t deserve it.

This goes back to objectivity. You want your kids to be the best. You personally think your kids in the best. But when you try to evaluate your athlete, and do it wrong, it hurts his/her chances at getting a scholarship.

Example: I was working with an athlete. We’ll call him Jarred. Jarred was a talented basketball player, but was only 6’0″ and 160 pounds. He was also lacking quite a bit of dimension in his skill set. He needed to get better and do more on the court.  When his mother contacted me to work with her son I told her, without seeing film, “Based on pure numbers you son is most likely Division 3.”  Jarred’s mother did not want to hear that and said, “If you tell him that you will lose him.”

Jarred and his mother came into my office and sat next to each other on the couch. I looked straight at Jarred and said, “Most of your point guards at D1 are 6’4″ or taller. You aren’t D1.” Jarred nodded and said, “Ok”.  Jarred’s mother’s jaw dropped at his response.  Then I said, “And D2 is not much different from D1. You aren’t D2.” Jarred said, “Ok”. Same reaction from Jarred’s mother. Then I told Jarred he was most likely D3 but had a lot of things to work on to make him stand out.

So we fixed the first parental overvaluation of Jarred. At least his mother knows where we need to market him. Now came the academic overvaluation. Jarred’s mother said, “Jarred needs to go to a high academic school” She wanted to market him to schools like John’s Hopkins. She told me “Jarred has a very high GPA.” So while I waited for his transcripts I marketed him to the high academic schools. But Jarred only had a 2.8 unweighted GPA and we wasted a lot of time marketing Jarred to schools where he did not meet their high academic requirements.

Next Jarred’s parents wanted him to only be marketed to a local school so they could go see him play in college. Jarred is from New Jersey. The basketball talent in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York is tremendous. There are a ton of high schools in a very small radius. So Jarred’s parents over inflated his value thinking that he could at least make the roster of a very highly competitive local college. I kept getting the same response from numerous colleges. “We like Jarred but there are two other players that we like even more.” Jarred’s parents had us waste more time trying to market Jarred to schools where he had no chance to be recruited.

Jarred’s parents, like many other parents, could not be objective when it came to their athlete. Even when they hired someone who was objective, they still wouldn’t listen. As a result their overvaluing of their athlete ended up killing their kid.

Summary

In order for parents to help their athletes they need to get out of their way. There are very few…and I mean VERY few parents who can maintain actual unbiased objectivity when it comes to their athlete. They just love their kids too much. That’s not a bad thing empirically, but when it comes to recruiting…it does far more harm than good.

If you are truly unable to maintain the objectivity needed to properly develop and market your athlete then hire someone who can look at the situation as an unbiased third party and listen to them because if you get in the way too often you may actually end up killing your kid.

Copyright © 2015, Pro Dynamix, LLC

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