Student Well-Being

HBO Documentary Examines Parents’ Obsessions With Youth Sports

By Karla Scoon Reid — December 18, 2013 2 min read
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A new HBO documentary provides an uncomfortable, close-up view of passionate parents seeking to encourage their children to excel in sports.

“Trophy Kids,” which first aired Dec. 4, tackles over-parenting in youth sports by following five children and their parents on and off the field of play. The filmmakers allow the parents and children to speak for themselves—there’s no narrator guiding the story.

Following the film, the documentary’s executive producer, Peter Berg, leads a brief roundtable discussion with Larry Lauer, director of coaching education and development at Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, and Todd Marinovich, a former NFL quarterback who was infamously groomed from birth by his father to be a star athlete.

The film is part of a documentary series HBO is producing called “State of Play,” which will examine a variety of sports themes that speak to larger societal issues. During a press conference with reporters, Berg, who helped create the high school football television drama, “Friday Night Lights,” said the documentary is “a very real example of where we are as a culture and what we are doing with our kids today.”

The emotion-filled parent monologues and the tense parent-child conversations are stomach-churning. I’ve had to check my own comments on the sidelines. My husband, who played NCAA basketball and has coached my sons, couldn’t stand to watch the entire film because he felt so badly for the children. Three of the children featured in the film break down and cry after their parents verbally crush their confidence.

“Can you be any stupider? How can you be so dumb?” yells one father at his son during a basketball game.

“If she’s crying that’s good ... ‘cause I’m gonna make her tough,” said the father of a young female golfer. Later, he adds: “Get the kid to buy into your dream.”

Berg, who has coached his 13-year-old son’s football team in the past, said the film has changed his parenting style.

“You watch your kid be lazy, or put in what you perceive to be a lack of effort, and it can be frustrating,” Berg told reporters. “Being a part of this film has made me a better parent. I’ve relaxed my expectations for my son.”

Following a busy flag football season for my own sons, ages 7 and 9, we decided to step off the field of play. Traditionally, the boys play basketball until baseball starts in the spring, but we benched them instead, surprising many of our friends. We wanted to have more family time with our children. We also had a nagging concern that our children might end up disliking sports because practices might seem more like work than fun.

As a family, we love to play and watch sports. And this self-imposed break from sports may prove to be the wrong choice for two active boys. But for now, I’m happy to root for my children on the playing field ... from my front lawn.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.