Sunday 23 November 2014

Pushy mums and dads on the pitch sidelines are only scoring own goals

Miriam Donohue

Published 17/02/2014 | 02:30

Dublin's Bernard Brogan, holds the Sam Maguire Cup to Dublin fans after victory over Mayo in the All Ireland Football Final at Croke Park. Picture : Damien Eagers / Irish Independent
Dublin's Bernard Brogan, holds the Sam Maguire Cup to Dublin fans after victory over Mayo in the All Ireland Football Final at Croke Park. Picture : Damien Eagers / Irish Independent

Over the weekend, bless their little hearts, thousands of energetic boys and girls all over Ireland togged out for their weekly fix of sport. Parks in our cities and towns, and country fields swarmed with youngsters buzzing around chasing a ball – and possibly their dreams as future soccer, Gaelic or rugby stars.

Coaching these sports-mad kids were dedicated and passionate coaches who give their time on a voluntary basis to train our future sports heroes, or those who simply enjoy getting exercise and bonding with a team.

Let's be honest, the vast majority of parents sighed with relief when their sons or daughters headed out the door on Saturday or Sunday morning with their training bags slung over their shoulders. They used the precious few hours to catch up with household chores after a demanding week at work. They might have enjoyed a lie-on in bed, indulged in hobbies, or met a friend for coffee.

Unfortunately this small window of peace for hard-working parents has been shattered by Dublin All-Star and All-Ireland Football medal winner Bernard Brogan, who has unfairly criticised parents who don't loom on the sideline to shout and roar as little Johnny or Mary strut their stuff.

The ace forward, who has two All-Ireland medals, has accused some mothers and fathers of using football as a babysitting service and of sending their children training on a Saturday morning so they can enjoy a break.

Brogan says his own parents were always present when he and his brothers trained and he believes it played a part in his success.

"Mam and Dad were always at the side of the pitch, and it was something you'd notice as there were only ever about three sets of parents there.

"Some people use football as a babysitting service, sending their child there on a Saturday morning and enjoying the break until they got home in the afternoon, but the people who progress to the heights are usually the ones who have their parents there, supporting them.

"I'd be a firm believer in parents getting behind their children and going out to watch them play."

If this bizarre pronouncement had come from a lesser-known sportsperson I would not be as exercised. But the name Brogan is synonymous with GAA, especially in Dublin.

Bernard's dad, Bernard senior, is a former three-time All-Ireland winner. His uncle Jim won two championships. His older brother Alan and younger brother Paul have also played for the Dubs, as has his cousin and business partner James Brogan.

I am worried that people might actually listen to him and take it to heart.

Of course it is important to encourage our children, not only in their sporting efforts but in all aspects of their lives. But I was never one of those mothers on the sidelines, as very early on in my kids humble sporting careers I saw enough overexcited, hysterical parents losing control to put me off for life.

There is nothing as pathetic as pushy mothers and fathers pacing the sidelines, twitching at every kick of the ball and shouting at their children and team. I have seen them with emotions frayed, covering their eyes, unable to watch and making a complete show of themselves.

Games are meant to be for the young people themselves, and not their parents. God knows modern children are overprotected as it is and are hand held every step of the way.

Many parents live their own lost battles on the sports field through their kids. Standing on the sidelines yelling and putting them under pressure to get stuck in is not helping their confidence or general development. We are turning what should be something enjoyable into a performance battle that can cause anxiety and stress.

The pressure from parents on their kids to excel in sports was so intense at a school in Essex in England last year that they were banned from the annual sports day. Good move by the head teacher there.

Good on Bernard that he had his parents with him as he trained and made his way up the ranks as one of our top sports stars. That was their choice. But to suggest that kids are at a disadvantage if their mums and dads are not an extended part of the team is ridiculous.

Parents score an own goal if they put too much pressure on their kids to perform, on or off the pitch. Being on a team should teach kids about pulling together as a group, about sacrifice and sharing. It should also give them some independence and teach them that there is another team in life apart from the one they are a part of at home. Let it not all be about winning All-Ireland medals.

So parents, don't feel guilty today as little Johnny and Mary head off to the sports pitch this week.

Savour those few hours and be kind to yourselves.

Irish Independent

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