The Right Way to Raise an Athlete


LaVar Ball wants a $1 billion shoe deal for his sons! LaVar Ball says he could beat Michael Jordan head-to-head! LaVar says he knows more about basketball than Charles Barkley! It seems like every NBA page, website and forum is coated over with quotes and articles about how ridiculous this man sounds. I know I’m only adding to the mess, but just this morning I saw no less than seven LaVar Ball memes while I was doing my routine scroll through my Facebook feed. It is, without a doubt, the hottest story in sports right now. 

As crazy as it seems, I’ve met a couple of fathers that remind me of LaVar Ball, and if you’ve ever worked in youth sports, you probably have too. I used to coach basketball with two of my friends in my city’s youth rec league. Due to our proximity to Boston and all of its sports history and fanfare, it’s no surprise that sports are a huge part of life for a lot of kids growing up in the area. Many parents push their kids to participate in two or three sports at young ages, sometimes playing on teams with overlapping seasons.

As a coach, this was evident. We’d have players show up late to our 8 p.m. practices because their soccer practice got out late, or leave early because they had to make it to swim practice. Don’t get me wrong: playing multiple sports is great, especially if you’re young. You get to build a network of friends and teammates, and test the waters to see which sport you want to focus on. I’d be lying though if I said I never wondered when these kids had time to do their homework or just take a break. Playing all these sports at once can be tough for kids, especially if the parent is pushing them to do too much.

This raises a trickier question though: what constitutes a parent pushing their kid too much in a particular sport? I saw a great example of this four years ago, when as a coach, I was faced with a parent not unlike LaVar Ball. That year, my fellow coaches and I had a player who blew everyone else out of the water. He was ridiculous and incredibly talented, but what I remember most about him was his dad. Every practice, his dad would sit in the bleachers and watch his son closely. He would frequently come down to the floor in the middle of our practice and critique his son. Even during games, he would hustle to our bench and give advice to his son. Me and the other coaches thought this guy was a hardass who pushed his son too much. It was just youth basketball, who cares that much? We even made jokes that he was probably that guy that never made it big and just pushed his son in order to live out his NBA dream. Sound slightly familiar? 

It was really up until the championship game that we thought this. The game became a nail-biter, and we needed this man’s son to sub in. He had played a subpar game, which led him pout on the sideline at one point as we begged for him to enter the game. But he refused to go in, costing us a timeout and precious time on the clock. We ended up losing the game and seconds after the final buzzer went off, we saw his dad approach the bench. I really thought he was going to give it to us good, but instead he went up to his son and scolded him, not for losing the game, not for playing poorly, but for not listening and respecting his coaches.

Now, I don’t know for certain if LaVar Ball is like this. But what I do know is that this man wants what’s best for his kids. I think it’s tough to judge a parent for pushing their kids too hard just because they involve themselves in their activities. If our player’s dad came up and scolded his son after the game for losing or playing poorly, it would’ve been a different story. Instead, he did the job every parent is supposed to do: he pushed his son to be a better person. So rather than rush to judgement about sports parents like LaVar Ball, we need to view him more as a father. His methods, unconventional as they may be, show the care he has for his sons’ careers in sports. Ultimately, it’s more about the quality of a parent’s involvement, not the quantity. 

Leave a Reply