The child of a super athlete is believed to be born great. The pressure is enormous to reach or go past the parents’ achievements. The child is always scrutinised and comparisons start from Day One. Maybe that’s why tennis couple Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf’s son Jaden was never forced into taking up the parents’ sport. Instead, he prefers baseball over matching up to his parents’ combined total of 30 singles Majors.
“There is a misconception that children inherit sporting skills from parents. They inherit only physical traits,” clarifies Dr Vece Paes. The Olympic bronze medallist in hockey and father of 18-time Grand Slam winner Leander, senior Paes feels that when parents who introduce their children to a sporting environment at an early age, the children end up playing it all their lives. Thus, the role of parent is very important and crucial to a child’s development, especially in the early years.
“The parent plays a critical role in introducing a child to sports say within 4-6 years of age,” says Paes. “By the time a child is 8, he or she will usually join an academy to develop technique. Four years down the line, the child usually chooses which sport to pursue based on the levels achieved.” Theoretically, a child should have two team and two individual sports to base a specialisation on.
“Parents play a massive role from ages of 12-16. Coaches often feel parents are interfering but they must understand it’s the parents who provide the child with emotional stability. It’s the parents who invest their time, emotions, finances for coaching and travel in a child’s sport. Sports has evolved around the globe thanks to increased studies on nutrition and recovery. In the initial years, it’s the parents who look after such needs,” adds Paes. The parent-coach relationship should be symbiotic in a child’s life.
If a child takes up individual sports, a parent ends up travelling with the ward. “Parents must ensure that affection is not based on results. Our affection for Leander never depended on his winning or losing. When one loses, the support should be more,” he feels.
When the child becomes independent and goes on to achieve results in the chosen sport, “it provides the parents a sense of relief and belief that all the hard work has succeeded. To see your child on the podium is wonderful.”
In India, parents often prefer their children to succeed in academics than pursue sports professionally. “Education is very important,” insists Paes. “A child can pursue sports and education together. The mistake parents do is rushing their children from practice to school to practice, studies and sleep. That creates pressure. Sports and education needs to be well balanced. One can achieve excellence without trying to do too much.”
Most tennis pros have played at the university level. “Education teaches tactics and emotional maturity. To be able to handle one’s self at the top of the game.”
Paes insists on providing parents with respect from coaches and sporting associations. “After all, parents put in all the hard work in the early years of a child. They play a vital and integral role in the child’s development.”