Today I'm going to talk about the ethical issues with a kid training to play at an elite level. At the Canadian Junior Open there was a young girl that was very good, but was pushed extremely hard by her father. I had many parents and kids talk about this and say how bad they felt for this girl. I can only imagine how many more of these cases there are in more lucrative sports. Anyways it got me thinking; what is the line? How much is too much? There is a reason they created the LTAD, but anyone that has been a top professional squash player training hard from a young age and normally began winning at a very young age.
As for this individual case, it's not up to anyone else to tell this person how to be a parent. I'm sure he's heard some remarks before. He's an intense person and eventually his daughter will grow up and either be equally as driven to succeed or driven away from her father and squash. He was right in her face, strict and to the point with his coaching. We all criticize his aggressive coaching techniques and parenting skills at this moment, but if she goes on to become a world champion he will only hear praises for his dedication and work ethic. Clearly I could never coach kids this way. It isn't my personality and I think kids would quit the sport. Yes, you may have some impressive results, but for those few that stick through it, how many would really love squash and training?
When one parent complained to me about this father's behaviour I felt impartial. Yes, I disagreed with his coaching method. But for other sports like gymnastics, kids are being coaching and trained like this because it's an early peak sport. The best gymnasts in the world are mid-teenagers. Clearly they didn't get to this standard by following the LTAD. They didn't get eased into rigorous training over a number of years. But when it comes to squash this feel different. I think some parents feel it isn't fair because their daughter wasn't nearly as strong of a player and may never be. So what can you do?
I'm sure if you went to Egypt you would see many kids playing at an incredible standard at a very young age. For me the difference here is where the motivation is coming from. Is it the young kid or the parent or coach? If a young child is intrinsically driven to play more and train hard that it great. If the parent is dictating all of this and the child is just following instructions there is an issue.
Everyone wants to believe that their child is the best and can be the best. But there are lots of kids that play squash and not everyone can become a world champion. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't allow them to follow their dreams of becoming an elite squash player. It's a parents job to aid this process. Looking back at my junior squash career. I wanted to be the best in the world. Even though I never player professionally I know that I was able to become the best in Canada just from working hard and being dedicated. It taught me I could do whatever I wanted if I put my mind to it. That hard work really does pay off and if you believe in yourself you can do anything you want. And when I was a young kid my motivation to pay and train and be the best was all internally motivated.
I haven't come to any grand conclusions about this topic. I found it quite fascinating. I'm sure as a parent you feel you know what's best for your kid. At what point is the line crossed and are you over the top and doing more damage than good? I don't know if this girl has another coach back home, or if it's just her dad that coaches her. There's always going to be a coach that enjoy working with a top athlete that will overlook the dominating father to work with the girl. Only time will tell how this will play out. I know some people hope this girl will not become a squash star because they don't approve of the method. Others feel bad for this girl as her entire life is squash. There is more to life than squash...hmm or is there??
Have you ever read Andre Agassi's biography? His dad was super strict and made him hit endless tennis balls that were fed by a homemade ball machine. Even though Agassi became the best player in the world he hated tennis and says he won't let his kids play tennis or any other individual sport. Even though he's married to Steffi Graf and their kids would likely be pretty athletic he said it's such a long and lonesome journey becoming a professional in an individual sport. As coaches how do we ensure that our athletes keep balance in their life? If we want to produce the top athletes they need to make a major dedication to their sport, which means they may lack some balance. It's an interesting debate.
Are you a squash parent? What's your take on this situation? Do you play the role of parent and coach? Or do you leave the coaching to the coach? Are your kids chasing your dreams or theirs?