Mom, I don’t want to become a pro, chill.

  • Bess T

I want to talk about my experience with parents who believe their child is going to become a professional athlete.  This is something that I experienced as a child; I experience it now as a coach; and I have also experienced the complete opposite.  I have always found the topic of parents living vicariously through their children interesting because that was my childhood.

I had a very unique upbringing where both of my parents had been professional athletes.  I was never even given the option to not be an athlete.  I was skiing as soon as I could walk and I was on horses as soon as I could sit up.  My father was a very successful ski racer, racing on the US Ski Team from 1976 to 1978 and then raced and coach at the University of Vermont until 1998.  My mother was a horseback rider competing in horse show circuits all over the US until she met my father in 1991.  My mother did not have as successful of a career as she had hoped for, while my father accomplished more than he ever dreamed of accomplishing and retired from competing by choice.

My mother, from a very young age, tried to push me into horseback riding.  I never really had a choice. She put me into lessons. She would get upset at an instructor and then she would become my coach. I would get upset with her as my coach, so I would go back to working with someone else and the cycle would repeat itself.  My mother always thought she could teach me better, but I never wanted to be taught by my mother because I felt this intense pressure from her that she needed me to succeed more than I ever cared to.  My whole relationship with my mother and horseback riding became about pleasing my mother and not about having fun with my horse.  I remember when I was 12 and I was riding my horse back to the barn and mom was walking beside me talking about how someday I’ll be riding in the Florida horse show circuit and we won’t have to spend winters in Canada anymore (her dream).  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I didn’t want that. I wasn’t having fun. I resented my mother so much at that point that our relationship had totally disintegrated.  So in a moment of rage, I jumped off my horse, told my mother I hated riding and just walked into the house.  I quit horseback riding that day and I have only been on my horse once ever since.  Mom had a really hard time accepting that I wasn’t going to ride anymore.  She would bring it up all the time making comments about how good I was at it every chance she could or comments about how we could be in Florida riding every time I said I was cold in the winter (my mom really hates Canadian winters).  It used to cause a lot of fights between us. We were still fighting over it during my senior year of high school!  I quit when I was 12!  It is now something we just don’t talk about.  Mom now focuses her energy into training other riders who actually want to ride.

My father on the other hand, never pushed me to ski race even though it had been such a big part of his life.  I had to fight with him to be allowed to race. I had to prove I was dedicated enough to earn new race gear. I had to earn the right to be a ski racer.  I didn’t start racing until I was in grade 6 when he finally let me join the Crabbe Mountain Race Club.  He was my coach for a few years, but he never treated me any different than all the other athletes he coached.  He never treated me like he was using me to complete some unfinished dream of his or push me to act as if my goals were bigger than they were.  I only got praised from him when I earned it and when I was told “good run” it meant more to me than the constant praise my mother gave me in riding.  He pushed me to succeed but never more than I needed.  I loved it, ski racing was completely under my control and my father’s expectations were always realistic and in line with my own expectations of myself.

I think this difference in how my father handled my ski racing career verses how my mother treated my horseback riding career is what has made me a ski racer today and not a horseback rider.  My mother’s over bearing approach caused me to have anxiety about performing well and burnt me out at such a young age.  I never felt pressure from my father which allowed me to make my own choice about how much effort I was going to put into the sport and how far I was going to go with it.  The result was me going much farther in ski racing than I ever did in horseback riding and being happy the whole time I was participating in skiing.

As a coach now, I see parents that expect more from their child than the child is capable of, all the time.  I see kids crack under this pressure, have melt downs on the side of a course, cry when they don’t win and just give up.  In my five years of coaching, I have never met a kid that has had a break down or that cried over a performance who didn’t have an overly pushy parent.  This type of parent is a lot more common than you would think.  26% of parents believe that their child will become professional or Olympic athletes (Taylor, 2016;  Kelto, 2015; Richard, 2015).  That’s one in four parents.  That is crazy especially when the stats for how many athletes ever get to that level are only a minuscule fraction of 1% (Richard, 2015).  So why do parents put this kind of expectation on their child?  According to Dr. Jim Taylor (2012), the pursuit of athletic stardom is an addiction when it’s about the parents, not the athletes; when children’s physical and mental health and development suffer for it.

This type of behaviour is unhealthy for parents and their children.  So how do we stop this? Dr. Jim Taylor, my favourite sports psychologist, addresses this topic in this video and he discusses the proper way to push your child to succeed.  This video is a bit lengthy, but worth the watch.

Sport Nova Scotia has also addressed this issue in a new video.



Kelto, A. (2015, Sepember 4). how likely is it really that your athletic kid will turn pro. Retrieved Novemeber 8, 2016, from

Richard, J. (2015, October 18). hitching your hopes to an athletes career. Retrieved from

Taylor, D. J. (2016, October 18). five ways get coaches parents side. Retrieved Novemeber 8, 2016, from


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9 Responses to Mom, I don’t want to become a pro, chill.

  1. swatson12 says:

    Great post Bess! I found this very interesting since I have seen both of these types of parents. My parents loved sport but never pushed me into them when I was young. Due to this I really think I gained a deeper love for the sport and all the reasons why I was playing it and not all the reasons my parents wanted me to.

    I really enjoyed the second video as well. It is funny but sheds lights on a major issue in sport. We can sit and watch it and laugh but in reality many parents probably need this. It is like any other addiction they can’t seem to get it out of their head that their child is the best or is going to make it big while the child is starting to hate the sport in many cases because of it.

    Again, I think it was a great article and your personal experiences really enhanced the post. It is interesting to see the influences you had from your parents and where you ended up today in sport. I am sure there are many children that can relate to your story and the more information that is put our there, hopefully it will start to improve and give children the chance to love sport and just have fun being a kid!

    -Stephanie W

  2. nicolaunb says:

    Great post Bess!!

    This was very interesting to read. It is clear to me after reading your story why you chose to pursue competitive skiing, and I believe many kids can relate to this effect of such an upbringing. Personally, growing up I was given the choice of what sports I wanted to pursue so that I could explore my options and discover my interests. My father grew up playing every sport imaginable and therefore encouraged my sister and I to do the same. For me, this was easy. I was a very energetic child whom enjoyed running around doing whatever, wherever. My sister on the other hand was more artistic and didn’t enjoy playing sports that involved getting dirty or playing outside in the rain. My father pushed her to be as involved with sports as him and I was, but it became very obvious to him that this wasn’t in her interests. To this day, my father still wishes she had continued playing sports so that they could have that to bond over, but he accepted the fact that it wasn’t beneficial to push her in a direction she didn’t want to pursue.

    There are many situations where children are pressured into playing sports because their parents assume they will soon become interested and continue on playing. For example, I played field hockey on a team with all of my elementary school friends. It was beneficial for the social aspect as well as the physical. Everyone enjoyed it except for one of my friends. It was very clear to everyone that she was more into dancing than outdoor sports as she would skip practices for dance and not be very engaged when she did attend. Her dad would show up to every game and cheer her on from the sideline. Although he was encouraging in his words from the sideline, it was proven that he was the reason she attended the very few games that she did, and she was timid to tell him she didn’t like it. Later that year she did end up quitting. Just as you did Bess, she built up the courage to tell her father that she didn’t enjoy playing and only really did it because he pressured her. Of course her father was upset, but it is necessary for youth to be open about their likes and dislikes so that they can get the most out of every sport or activity they engage in.

    Nicola S.

  3. colinougler says:

    YES BESS! Such a smooth read and very effective at hitting many major points.

    Here I go again – dance. Those who I see excelling at dance have two attitudes, and there’s never an in between: humble or arrogant. Being arrogant about being phenomenal is annoying and already makes people not appreciate all of your hard work because you expect to be handed titles when there are people more deserving. This is where the humble dancers come into play – they often times can be the best on their team, but they either recognize their strengths and continue to work hard or lack the tiniest bit of confidence that would take their abilities to the next level.

    If I have learned anything this year, both from first hand experience denying an acceptance a professional dance program in Toronto and through my current courses, sometimes one only does something as a release or for fun. Sure, I am capable of pursuing dance according to the owner and founder of Ballet Jorgen, but I wanted to further my dance education to help my teaching abilities. Instead of the direct learning of dance, I have learned about how crucial coaching is, how to approach dealing with youth in a positive and uplifting way, and how much goes into dance outside of the classroom itself. For me, there was a silver lining in my avoiding a professional career, such as the many lessons I had learned, plus I got a puppy out of it. People need freedom to explore their options, even once they are in adulthood.

  4. akenny1 says:

    Great post Bess!

    When I was younger I really into figure skating and although my mother was not a figure skater in her youth, it was something we really bonded over. There are only a few practices that I can remember that my mom wasn’t in the bleachers watching me practice. It was always fun because when I would have competitions out of town it would be like a girls weekend away from my dad and brother. I had a pretty successful career winning multiple provincial titles. I could tell my mom was always really proud of me. When I was in the seventh grade, skating began getting hard for me. I started falling big jumps that I had previously mastered and it all started to become really stressful for me. I remember doing really terrible at one of my competitions and when me and my mom got home from the trip I went straight to my room and cried for hours. Later in the week when I returned to practice, I remember not enjoying practice anymore. After about a week of terrible practices, I approached my mom about quitting. She was devastated and I think she probably cried more than me when I returned from getting dead last at my last competition. This became a sore topic of conversation between my mom and I for years. To this day I still joke with my mom about not being able bring up figure skating. Looking back to seventh grade, I now realize that my mom might have only been upset because figure skating was something we really bonded over. Maybe, Bess, this is also something your mother was upset about. I think sometimes adults have a funny way of showing emotion and I’ve learned that as I, myself, have developed into an adult. To this day, whenever I watch figure skating on TV I wonder how good I could have been if I continued to skate. And honestly I wish I would kept skating, even when it got hard.

    Amanda K

  5. heathread says:

    Wow that was a great post Bess! I loved how you differentiated between your mom and dad. I totally agree with everything you have said. I had friends back in high school whose parents would push them so much that became tired of the sport and didn’t want to play anymore. As for myself, my parents encouraged me through any sport I played. Sometimes my dad would be hard on me but it would mostly be positive criticism. I also liked how you talked about when you coach you can see if pressure gets to the kids. It is amazing how parents can get so caught up into making their kids the best athlete in the world yet forget that these kids need to have fun as well. Speaking of the United States, I know that a lot of kids that want to go to the NCAA or become a professional athlete must go to either private schools or prep schools. I could not imagine being only 12 or 13 years old and going to one of these schools to basically decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. Anyway, I really liked this post and totally understand where you are coming from.


  6. kepo00157 says:

    Bess! This post was amazing! I loved it! I was sad when it ended. It was beautifully written and I identified with your story, although I lived a different one…

    My Mom had played sports through middle school, but never competitively, and my Dad never got the chance to participate, due to growing up without a lot of money. For as long as I can remember, I have always been encouraged to try every sport I wanted to. My Dad vowed that he would do anything to make sure my siblings and I got the opportunities that he didn’t. I tried gymnastics, ballet, soccer, baseball, basketball and volleyball until I finally hit my stride with Tae Kwon Do. My brother and I were both in this sport, but he soon quit. My brother wasn’t very athletic and had no competitive drive. Tae Kwon Do was right up my alley, it was violent, fast paced and a lot of fun. I loved fighting, and I was really good at it! My Dad and I really bonded through this sport, and I became his “little boy”. We would go away every weekend with my coach and his son (who also competed) to tournaments or training in Moncton. My Dad and I spent upwards of a minimum of 18 hours a week with each other (at class/competitions). As the years continued, we went to Nationals each spring. I progressively got more skilled and stood on the National podium the last few years, in 2nd or 3rd place. I really wanted that gold medal, and my Dad wanted it just as bad for me. He was so proud of me and just wanted to help me reach my goals. We started me training for 2-3 hours in classes five days a week, sparring on the weekends for 2 hours and HIIT training for 1 hour 2 times a week. I was at my peak when I went to Black Belt Nationals in 2009, and all my hard work payed off! I won Nationals!

    I don’t think I would have achieved what I had without the persistence and push from my father. He seen something in me, that sometimes I couldn’t. He would rip the sheets off of me on the mornings I didn’t want to wake up to train – He was my hardest critic – He would only carry my gear if I won a tournament – He would constantly be quizzing me on strategy and practicing my kicks in our living room. Although he was intense sometimes, he did it out of love! I enjoyed the push and the time we spent together. In this case, I appreciated my Dad treating me like a ‘professional’ athlete!

    ***I recognize this isn’t the case for the majority of children with intense parents

    Kelsie P

  7. Alex Watts says:

    Great post Bess.
    I have also seen a lot of this from working at the hockey school. Every single week there would be a mix of parents that thought their kid was going to the NHL, parents that at the end of the day, didn’t care. I did not find many instances where the youth had an internal drive to make the NHL that was not fostered initially by their parent/guardian. I also understand that with individual sport as opposed to team sports, the opportunity for more one on one time with a coach is far greater, even more so when you are an individual sport athlete with a parent/guardian as your coach. Fortunately for myself, I was never an individual sport athlete, nor do I ever plan to be. I feel as though this combination of parent/child coach/athlete can have very different implications for different people. i.e., Kelsie’s comment. It appears that she has excellent memories of having her father as her coach and treating her as a professional athlete. In her defense as well, it seems she was really into Tae Kwon Do when she started, as opposed to you being ‘thrown’ into horseback riding by your mother. Perhaps if we let the youth decide for themselves first, than this relationship could lead to more positive stories than negative ones?

    Alex W.

  8. dpelkey1 says:

    Great post Bess!! Growing up participating in sports i saw this happen all to often. Hockey was the main sport i played growing up and it was always so obvious to everyone who’s parents tried to push their kids to hard. A lot of these people that i played with would end up quitting because they could not take the pressure their parents were putting on them trying to make them better. its definitely a sad thing to see in sports now a days. I think that some parents do this because they are living on through their children and at the end of the day i do think the parents just want what is best for their child. However, parents who are like this can take the fun away from their children for the sport they are participating in. Once again Bess, awesome post! Its something that should be looked at a lot more in the parental roles of youth and sport.

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