Meet the Sports Parents


This is a guest post by sports psychology specialist, Dr. Jim Afremow.

Meet the Parents is a hilarious look at familial relationships that features Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, and Robert De Niro at the top of their comedic games. Stiller plays Gaylord “Greg” Focker, a male nurse who plans to ask his girlfriend, Pam Byrnes (Polo), to marry him. De Niro’s character, Jack Byrnes, a retired CIA agent, is Pam’s tightly wound father. The overprotective future father-in-law soon becomes Greg’s worst nightmare.

During a weekend visit to Pam’s parents’ house, Greg finds himself under the watchful eye of Jack, who is hell-bent on making sure that he will be an honorable and trustworthy husband for Pam. In addition to subjecting Greg to a polygraph test, Jack explains the importance of trustworthiness by sharing his “Circle of Trust.” There are only two possible places that people can be: People you trust are on the inside of the circle, while people you don’t trust are on the outside of the circle.

The Circle of Trust concept can be valuable in helping parents think about how to best support their son or daughter in athletics. Building trust within a parent-child relationship can be difficult. Parents think they know the best approach for helping their child succeed in sports. However, best intentions can and do often go wrong. It doesn’t matter what you think about your advice; it matters what your child thinks about your advice.

Draw a circle on a piece of paper. This is your child’s Circle of Trust. A dot inside the circle represents a behavior helpful to your child. A dot outside the circle represents a behavior not helpful to your child. To be a champion sports parent, work with your child to identify whether your behaviors, with regard to his or her sports participation, land inside or outside the circle. Creating a visual representation such as this can be very beneficial during brainstorming efforts and help you make positive and practical changes, as well as bond with your child.

What are athletes’ usual preferences for parental behavior? In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Dr. Camilla Knight and her colleagues at the University of Alberta, Canada, surveyed junior tennis players’ preferences for parental behavior during competition. Overall, 11 focus groups were conducted with 42 high-performance Canadian tennis players. Major themes identified included:

  • Parents should comment on attitude and effort, but refrain from technical and tactical instruction.

  • Parents should provide practical advice (e.g., reminders about nutrition and doing warm ups).

  • Parents’ nonverbal signals should match their verbal communication (i.e., making encouraging statements in tandem with relaxed body language and gestures).

  • Parents should understand and respect the etiquette of the game (e.g., avoiding displays of bad manners, such as screaming at the officials).

Excerpt from The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive (Rodale, January 2014) by Jim Afremow, Ph.D.

Dr. Jim Afremow is a sports psychology specialist, a licensed professional counselor, and the author of The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive (Rodale, January 2014). Though his private practice is located in Phoenix, Arizona, Dr. Afremow provides individual and group mental training services across the globe to athletes in all sports, as well as to parents, business professionals, and all others engaged in highly demanding endeavors.