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Father Too Critical of Son's Athletic Performance

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: How damaging is it to my 14-year-old son to have his father criticize him after every basketball game? My son made the "A" team this year (he didn't last year), but doesn't seem to be trying to improve. He does not like sitting on the bench, but that is what he is doing. The other kids on the team are the "in" kids, and I know my son doesn't really have a good buddy on the team. All his good friends are on the "B" team. I would rather see him play lots and have fun on the B team, but my husband won't even consider it. My husband was a good athlete and very competetive basketball player (he still is), but our son is so different. It hurts to see my husband put down our son. He even compares our 14-year-old to his younger sister,(12), who is naturally very good at basketball. Our son actually told me, (he won't tell his dad) that he doesn't really like basketball. My husband is taking every bit of fun out of the sport, and I am afraid of what this is going to do to our son. Please offer your suggestions. Thank you.

A: Your son's dilemma of being moved up and now playing less is all too common in organized youth/school sports. He does have the opportunity to improve and learn every time he practices with his team and one would hope that his coach's philosophy would be to give him increasing game experience. This may not be the coach's philosophy and he may give your son playing time only when the game is an overwhelming runaway win or loss in its final minutes.

Now to the much more important dilemma -- your husband's browbeating and humiliating of your son. You mention that your son now seems "not really trying to improve". Do you think that you might stop trying to improve, or maybe even trying much at all, if you knew that your efforts would always be severely criticized -- if you knew that you would/could NEVER be a good enough ballplayer to satisfy your dad?

Unfortunately, your son's enjoyment of sport is being seriously affected by a dominating father with unrealistic, expectations. How can your son tell his father to back off and just let him enjoy playing basketball?

Your husband needs to realize the emotional harm he is doing to his son. See if you can get him to talk to a counselor with you about your concerns. Do not put your son in the middle of this. Maybe there is a male friend who could talk some sense into your husband in a non-threatening way. If he continues relentlessly pressuring and embarrassing your son in regards to his sports achievements, you risk causing deeper emotional harm to your son, harm that can and will damage his overall, healthy adolescent emotional development. Incidentally, your athletic daughter is not immune from similar treatment by your husband, especially if your son chooses to remove himself from sports.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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