University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari spoke to the media after a recent game and discussed the struggle facing one of his young players. In responding to a reporter’s question, Calipari offered some insight on sports parenting that you might find valuable, especially if you’re working to lead and develop a champion athlete and person of your own today. Hopefully it provides you an opportunity to stop and consider an important question every sports parent should be willing to answer: are you an enabler?

You can watch the one-minute clip from Coach Calipari here:


Calipari talks about the important balance he tries to strike when it comes to developing champions. No matter how you feel about him personally, there’s plenty we can learn from a guy who’s coached elite athletes at such a high level. To him, that balance is essential to helping a player reach his full potential. On one hand, he understands the importance of showing a young athlete (especially one in a struggle) the love and support they need. At the same time, he also understands that helping a young person become their best – in sports or in life – requires more. It also requires accountability, responsibility, and ownership.

If you’re working to lead and develop a young athlete of your own, then finding that balance is a critical part of your success, too. When your child faces the inevitable struggles that come with playing at a high level, they’ll need your support. In fact, there'll be times when supporting, defending, or even protecting them might be an important part of the role you play. The champion sports parent sees clearly when and where to support, defend, and protect. But if you’re hoping to raise an athlete who reaches their full potential, there’s gotta be more. If supporting, defending, and protecting is all you ever do, especially when things get tough, then you’re likely an enabler. As Coach Calipari says, "that parent is killing their son." Enabling parents develop entitled kids, and entitled kids don’t become champions in sports or in life.

Enabling parents develop entitled kids, and entitled kids don’t become champions in sports or in life.

Calipari uses a classic example of the enabling parent, complaining about the unfairness of playing time. “Well, he doesn’t take him out, but he takes you out,” he imitates. It's so common: a player who’s struggling, and a parent who, at all costs, has chosen to support, defend, and protect. Sure, it may feel better to blame the coach than admit the truth, but this parent is promoting and instilling in their child a weak, unhealthy mindset. It says that you’re entitled to something you haven’t earned. That you should always get what you want, whether you deserve it or not. That you’re unfairly being picked on, cheated, or victimized. That you’re not responsible for doing better. The enabling sports parent sends a lot of these messages to their developing child, and none of them are productive.

As a champion sports parent, on the other hand, you see things differently. You understand the important balance that’s required. Yes, supporting, defending, and protecting your child may be one part of the equation. But accountability, responsibility, and ownership also play a critical role in making him his very best. That’s because for all of us accountability, responsibility, and ownership diminish our victim mentality. They help each one of us develop some important understandings about the reality of life for successful people, in any area. The understanding, for instance, that struggle is a part of success. That the person to blame when things go bad is usually the one we see in the mirror. That circumstances beyond our control are actually much less important than our response to those circumstances. And that what really matters – beyond who’s to blame or why – is the focus we place on getting better. This is the powerful, productive mindset of a champion.

As a parent, you have a responsibility to show your child you love them – and yes, supporting, defending, and protecting them is one form of love. But holding them accountable is a form of love, too. In fact, you could argue that doing the difficult work it takes to hold them accountable, to teach them these valuable lessons, and to prepare them to live their best life is in fact more loving than choosing to enable them – making them feel good now, taking the easy way out, and setting them up for failure when it really matters later. No, this work isn't easy, or convenient, or painless. But who said doing anything worthwhile in life – including raising a champion athlete and person – was going to be?

If you recognize today that you’ve acted as an enabler in the life of your child, it’s not too late to change. Of course, the habits that you’ve developed – and those you’ve helped your child develop – won’t be easy to break. But the longer you wait, and the more entitled you allow your young athlete to become, the harder it will be. You don’t have to be perfect – none of us are, after all. But we can be intentional about seeing clearly the balance that’s required to raise a champion, and then work hard to live it out each day. I think you’ll be proud of yourself, and of the champion athlete and person you’ve led and developed, if you do.


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