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Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Yano — Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Why football dads should be better role models

Posted on 21st March, 2013 | filed under Featured, The Big Debate


Go down to your local park on a Sunday and watch the kids playing football. Then stop watching and start listening. You’ll hear children enjoying themselves, but you’ll also hear parents – pushy, shouty, aggressive parents. ‘They don’t know what they’re doing!’ chants Michael Donlevy

For some reason we expect professional footballers to be role models, even though many of them are highly paid, under-educated, arrogant young men who are encouraged from a young age to be aggressive and never show any sign of weakness. Look at the recent examples: John Terry, banned for racial abuse; Luis Suarez, banned for racial abuse and now for biting another player; Joey Barton, banned for violent conduct; and Eden Hazard, banned for taking the unusual step of kicking a ball boy. It doesn’t have to be that way.

‘Sir Alex Ferguson once said if you took the aggression out of Wayne Rooney he wouldn’t be the same player, but I don’t buy into that,’ says sports psychologist Ken Way. ‘The pressure will always be there, but you can learn to modify your behaviour.’

And that goes for dads, who really should know better, too. ‘I was at a big match with my nine-year-old and two dads, whose kids are friends, nearly came to blows when one son didn’t pass to the other and missed the goal,’ says dad-of-two Rob. ‘Three of us had to come between them. The boys looked a bit bemused – and upset. They’re not really old enough to understand that sort of bust-up over a game, especially when it’s their dads involved.’

‘Fathers are role models and they inevitably develop their son’s “blueprint” for how to respond to life,’ says educational psychologist Teresa Bliss. ‘Whatever they do, their sons are watching, listening and internalising how to respond and interpret the world.’

There’s male pride at stake here. When we were young we dreamed of being David Beckham. Now we’re older and, let’s face it, increasingly unlikely to be multimillionaire professional footballers, the idea of being Ted Beckham, his dad, becomes more appealing. That manifests as a desire to push our kids. But is it doing more harm than good?

‘If on the pitch a father tells his son to break another child’s leg, why shouldn’t the boy do the same at another time when things aren’t going his way?’ says Bliss. ‘Dads need to reflect on the messages they’re giving their boys. What sort of young men do they want to raise? No parent would say they want to raise a thug or one that will end up in court for GBH.’

And you have to ask: why would you want your child to become a footballer? The cash earned by the very top players is appealing, but they are in the minority. The Bradford City players who reached the Capital One Cup final last month earn a League Two average of £750 per week – not a bad wage, but a short-term one, considering most pros don’t have much of an education or a trade to fall back on when their playing days come to an end.

Take Lee Hendrie, 35, who made more than 300 appearances for Aston Villa and won an England cap in 1999. Once earning £35,000 per week, he contemplated suicide in 2010 when, on top of an expensive divorce, his property portfolio collapsed. ‘I kept nothing,’ he recently told FourFourTwo. ‘They took the houses, and I can’t get a mortgage or bank account because of the bankruptcy. I got remarried last year but we didn’t have a honeymoon because we had to use all our money on rent.’

Now playing non-league football, he also offers financial advice to footballers. ‘A lot of young players – and older players – need to know their money’s being looked after because, as I found out, a lot of advisors are only in it for themselves.’

Way agrees. ‘I know a couple of footballers who have battled with depression, and I think agents can do more to support them,’ he says. ‘Everyone blames the clubs, but there’s a real grey area in terms of supporting these young men.’

Is this really what you want for your child? A career that’s likely to end in failure before it’s even started. A career that, even if successful, can lead to disappointment, depression and bankruptcy.

‘For young boys the emphasis should be on the fun of taking part and learning one of life’s lesson that sometimes you don’t win,’ says Bliss. ‘Fathers need to help their children take a loss on the chin and be determined to win next time. That attitude develops resilience, makes your kids emotionally stronger and is useful in other areas of life, unlike the “break his leg” approach. Sport for young children is about developing a healthy lifestyle, fitness, skills and strength – not just about winning and demolishing your opponent.’

Now take the case of Spanish athlete Iván Fernández Anaya, who, in December, competed in a cross-country race in Navarre. He was in second, some way behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the 3,000m steeplechase at the London Olympics. On the finishing straight, the Kenyan mistakenly pulled up 10 metres before the finish, thinking he’d already crossed the line.

Anaya caught up, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line in first place. ‘Even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it,’ says Anaya. ‘I think I’ve earned more of a name than if I’d won. And that’s important, because today, with the way things are – in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes – a gesture of honesty goes down well. Unfortunately, very little has been said of the gesture. And it’s a shame. In my opinion, it would be nice to explain to children, so they don’t think that sport is only what they see on TV: violent kicks, [disingenuous] statements, fingers in the eyes of the enemy…’

That is a role model.

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Why football dads should be better role models was posted on 21st March, 2013 by Michael Donlevy under Featured, The Big Debate

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Michael Donlevy

About the author: Michael Donlevy

Writing was in my blood from as early as I can remember; parenting took longer to come to me. I come from a creative family – my grandad was an opera singer, for example, although that particular gene skipped my generation – and I always loved writing and drawing, so a career in the creative industries was all I ever wanted. And I have been lucky. I have worked on men’s and women’s lifestyle magazines, with a particular slant on sport, health and fitness… genuine lifestyle stuff. I had two stints on men’s magazine Maxim, latterly as Editor, but probably the most fun I had in a full-time job was as Deputy Editor of Men’s Fitness for four years, interviewing sports stars and writing contentious features about things like government health policy, dodgy food labelling and fast food companies sponsoring sport (it’s a good thing, so long as you don’t eat the stuff). More recently I have worked in a freelance capacity, particularly for Flipside, a science and tech-based magazine for teenagers. As well as writing a lot about sport, I also indulge my other great passion – entertainment – as Flipside’s Reviews Editor. So what do I know about parenting? Good question, and one that maybe you should ask my ten-year-old son! He is, of course, my big work in progress. It’s important to me that I try to be the best dad I can and teach him the right things, but also that I learn from him too. I love the fact that parenting is a two-way process. Oh, I also manage a website called realbirthcompany.co.uk – which runs antenatal classes for mums and dads-to-be. The fact that my wife is a midwife probably explains why I know more than most men would ever wish to about pregnancy, birth and caring for a newborn. It hasn’t put me off, and I haven’t passed out either. Yet…
  • Heidi

    I like what you say about boys watching their dads and internalising their behaviour. Leading by example is definitely the best way but sometimes very hard to do!

  • Guest

    You are very right, kids always observe and imitate what their parents do, specially for boys their dad’s behavior is the final verdict. Though it is hard but players can become the best role models for their kids provided they react consciously to the ups and downs they have to face on daily basis.

  • No one special

    Yes, players can role model better for their kids provided they react consciously to the everyday ups and downs of their games.

  • Jeannette @autismmumma

    So true, my husband is a football coach for the team my 10year old plays in and they have encountered very over bearing parents. My husband is living his childhood football aspirations through our son and the team and loving it. When they win a trophy, he is as excited as them. Shame others have to make it so competitive.

  • Katie carr

    Sometimes it’s only the parents dreams and not children’s and i think people should think about that sometimes a but more. But let’s face it its harder said than done.
    Passion is a great trait but sometimes can become angry and aggressive. It’s about how it’s channelled that counts. Being driven and competitive is key but let’s stop trying to live our own dreams via our children. Perhaps it’s the parents who are unfulfilled somewhere in their own lives.