Delusional Parent Disorder in Youth Sports
Definition of Delusional Parent Disorder: Parents who have false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions about their children even when confronted with facts: “Watching Barb yell at her daughter after practice makes me think she suffers from Delusional Parent Disorder.”
I am not a psychologist. To my knowledge, there is no confirmed condition called Delusional Parent Disorder (“DPD”). I’m just a coach, but coaching all star cheerleading makes me sometimes wish I had a degree in psychology! It would certainly help me to understand the thought process of some of the 2,000 parents who have kids in our programs. Most of the parents in our programs are amazing and only suffer from a mild form of DPD, but there are always those extreme cases. You know that dad or that mom. While the name of the disorder is simply made up, it is a real problem, especially when Delusional Parent Disorder creeps into parenting a young athlete.
It does seem that there is something in our genetic makeup that makes parents feel that their children are always better than they actually are. They can’t help it and I will probably feel that way about my own children. These are all thoughts from parents: “My children are the prettiest, smartest and of course, the best athletes.” “My daughter is great at gymnastics, my son is an outstanding runner, and my two youngest daughters are the best cheerleaders.” Most parents just cant help it.
A 2014 study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that nearly 50% of parents with overweight children were in denial about their child’s weight. They may not really be in denial. Could it be that parents are genetically programmed to believe their children are just better than they are? I would argue that those parents in the study are just like parents who believe that their children are better athletes than they actually are.
What is the problem of having an extremely over inflated view of your child’s athletic abilities? What does it hurt? Actually, it can hurt a lot. When people have unrealistic expectations of their children’s athletic abilities, they begin to put unnecessary pressure on them to perform to a potentially unrealistic standard. Instead of appreciating their coach, (who is usually an experienced, educated, certified professional) parents begin to think that Suzy should have better spots in the routine, should be praised more at practice, the coaches should let Suzy fly, but Suzy is a backspot. Parents begin to coach them from the parents’ nest if their practice or effort is not up to the level they believe it should be. “I am not wasting my money if you’re not going to throw your back handspring.” Parents have those post-practice conversations in the car with their children, dissecting the practice and inflating the importance of a nine- year-old youth cheerleading practice when all they really want to know is if they will take them out for some ice cream.
These situations negatively impact the athlete-teammate, athlete-coach and most importantly the child-parent relationship. It instills a belief within our children that they are not living up to their parents expectations, and instead of learning to take personal responsibility for their own enjoyment and improvement in their sport, they learn to blame coaches, teammates and end up looking for someone else to help them get to the “next level” rather than finding the passion and desire within themselves to improve and reach their goals. These situations teach our youth the exact opposite of what they should be learning from their participation in sports.
It all starts with putting children in youth sports for the right reasons. Parents should constantly remind themselves what those reasons are: Learning teamwork and communication. Understanding the importance and benefits of fitness and an active lifestyle. Competing in a healthy and positive way. Overcoming adversity and losses. In a world where it is natural to help our children avoid pain and failure, coupled with schools implementing systems that guarantee success when success has not really been attained, youth sports is one of the few opportunities that a child has to learn how to fall and get back up. If a youth sport organization, coach and team are providing these opportunities for our children, then parents should be ecstatic.
Once children are in an environment that teaches those life lessons, parents should let the coaches coach and let the athletes learn from them. Then see where it goes. If a child loves their sport, let’s keep them engaged. There are so many lifelong benefits to having a passion for sport. They may very well reach some amazing goal that THEY set, but the reason for having children participate in youth sports should not be to get them a college scholarship or to go pro or to meet our parental expectations of them as an athlete. It is great to encourage them to dream big. We just need to make sure it is their dream.
By curbing the natural instinct of being a delusional parent and having potentially unrealistic expectations of the child’s athletic prowess, together we can provide the athletes with a more positive sports experience and set them up to benefit from lifelong lessons they can learn from their youth sports participation.
This is an article adapted for cheerleading by me, Courtney Kania Young. A friend of mine involved in basketball shared this article and I found it to be so fitting for all sports, especially cheerleading. To read the original article, by the original author, Keith Van Horn, it can be found here.