Pushy parents 'can turn their children off sport for life'

The tightrope that parents of sporting prodigies have to walk between encouraging their child to fulfil their potential and pushing them too far – possibly to the brink of damaging their mental or physical health – was highlighted yesterday by one of the doctors responsible for the health of British athletes at the last Olympic Games.

Dr Rod Jaques, who is now national medical director of the English Institute for Sport, which works with elite athletes, told the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference that parents, coaches and schools all played a key role in preparing our future sportsmen and women.

In the case of parents, he warned that in rare but "worrying" cases their love was "conditional" upon sporting success. "I think it is a tough one when a parent... is both the coach and parent. It is a potential for conflict of interest there. It's a very delicate balance between encouragement and support for that child and its potential for being a mentor or tormentor of the child.

"It is often anecdotally said that behind every injured child is a parent athlete wanting to get out. We probably have witnessed this on the side of our rugby fields or football fields of the bawling parent, not just at the referee but at the child on the field of play."

He added that this type of behaviour by parents could actually be counterproductive, as a child was more likely to feign injury or simply give up the sport if put under pressure.

Dr Jaques stressed that most parents had exactly the right attitude and that, "the love is entirely unconditional". However, he added: "Occasionally, I don't see that. The love is conditional upon them [the child] having sporting success. In the worst case it can create eating disorders or even protract injuries – where we find no evidence of injury still existing but they still complain of pain."

He also had a warning for coaches, whom he said should be careful when choosing the words they use with their protégés. A wrong word, particularly in the case of a gymnast conscious of their weight, could provoke an eating disorder.

He added that most schools, particularly in the independent sector, had the balance between sport and academia about right. He said sporting prodigies did, in the main, get the best out of their schooling, with research showing that on average they achieved better exam qualifications than their non-sporting peers – possibly because of the leadership skills and discipline their training gave them.

They were absent from class for lengthy periods and were treated differently by staff and the school, but could still keep up. The biggest problem for the schools was losing their star players for games against rivals, as they were too busy competing or training at a national level.

Dr Jaques pointed out that it took around 11 years of training for an athlete to reach their peak in their chosen sport, and up to 40 hours of training a week. As the average age of competitors at the Beijing Olympics was 25.6, they needed to start specialising at 14.

"They [the athletes] were worried about injuries they could pick up from other sports," he said.

Dr Jaques also pointed out that at the last Olympic Games, 48 per cent of British medal winners were from private schools, which educates only 7 per cent of the country's children. There were fewer representatives from lower socio-economic groups, he said, with athletes from single-parent homes particularly under represented at just 5 per cent.

"The taxi service to take them home from training is not there," he said. "It takes two to make that happen. Unless we were to move towards those other countries [the US and Australia] where sporting schools are largely state funded, it is difficult to see change."

Sporting schooldays

Tom Daley

The world champion diving sensation, 16, often found himself in the deep end at school. Like many sporting prodigies, he struggled to cope with sudden fame, and after springing to prominence during the Beijing Olympics in 2008 an older pupil at Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth allegedly threatened to break Daley's leg. "It's getting to the stage now where I think 'Oh, to hell with it. I don't want to go back to school,'" he said. Daley's parents later pulled him out of Eggbuckland, accusing staff of not doing enough to stop the builying. He transferred to the independent Plymouth College, later emerging with five A* grades and two grade-A passes in his GCSE exams earlier this year.

Rory McIlroy

The teenage golfer, now aged 21, would be the first to confess that his school, Sullivan Upper in Holywood, near Belfast, was not top of his priority list. In his formative years he struggled to cope with the time required to train, saying: "When I was at school I was good, but I was rarely there so I was always trying to catch up. I'd say if my attendance had been any better I would have been OK."

Mike Atherton

If anyone provides a model for combining sporting and educational success it was the former England cricket captain. He went to Manchester Grammar School and then Cambridge University where he gained a first in history. During his undergraduate career his teammates would refer to him as FEC, or Future England Captain – a job he held by the age of 25.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?