Blurred lines: Are parents getting too involved in high school sports?

They push. They pull. They transfer them to other schools.

They obsess over the college-scholarship pursuit. They shuttle their kids from practices, camps, games, sometimes always in their ear about how they played.

They put them on pedestals. They spend big bucks. They cross over coaches’ boundaries, finding social-media platforms to get their points across. They have unreasonable expectations.

They’re helicopter parents. And they’re not going away.

“Every coach in the state goes through this,” Mesa (Ariz.) Desert Ridge football coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “They have five or six of these parents every year.

“You lay boundaries. But it’s so bad. I told my wife, ‘I don’t know if I want to coach anymore. I’m tired.’ When it’s about football, it’s fun. But about this, ‘Why?’

“It’s why you see all these coaches in and out leaving. Five or six guys who coached with me don’t coach anymore.”

Helicopter parents are those who take an extraordinary interest in their child’s life, sometimes to the extent of overprotection.

The majority of parents are well-intentioned, knowing their place and entrusting their coach with their child.

But statistics indicate there has never been more pressure to succeed in sports at a younger level.

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In a study conducted by the National Alliance of Sports, 70 percent of children drop out of athletics by the time they’re 13 years old.

According to Youth Sports Statistics (, 37 percent of youths surveyed said they wished their parents wouldn’t watch them play.

“In an effort for parents to protect their children, they have inadvertently gone a bit too far,” said Goodyear Desert Edge boys basketball coach Scott Lovely, who gets into the topic in his book, “The First Chair”. “They have taken the necessary developmental need of the experience one gains from struggle away from their child.

“The constant hover or stepping in to solve the perceived challenges is taking away the child’s learning opportunities that are lifelong, shaping experiences. Failure and missteps are an essential part of learning.”


Organized sports generally starts when a child turns 5, and sports at a younger age have become more structured in the past 20 years.

There is travel ball in just about every sport. Club ball has grown exponentially since the 1980s. College scholarships are being offered before kids reach high school, even in football.

There is greater pressure to pick one sport, with specialization and year-round games leading to more injuries, more chance to burn out early.

MORE: When to let go: Parents chasing scholarships for their children

“With sports, that involves so much passion,” said University of Mary (Bismarck, N.D.) professor John Tufte, who wrote two books, “Crazy-Proofing High School Sports” and “Society’s Punching Bags: How Educators Can Fight Back in the War of Accountability”. “There are two types: Harmonious passion, the stuff that makes us better, and obsessive passion, the helicopter parents. They’re trying to help the kids but they’re killing them.

“If they put all of their eggs in one basket, they think it helps the kids. It’s doing the opposite. I tell them they have to get out of their way, get your own hobbies, talk to your kids about other things.”

The pressure helicopter parents put on their children also can extend to their children’s coaches.

There are many factors for the transient state of coaches: Pay, success of the program, job demands and parent involvement.

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