I felt a little cheated by the highly anticipated HBO Sports special, "Trophy Kids," that premiered Dec. 4th as part of HBO's "State of Play" series. "Trophy Kids" explores the relationship between parents and children in junior tennis, golf, football and basketball. While it's an important topic, Executive Producer Peter Berg's adult subjects were a little too obsessive to be mainstream representatives of the majority of parents driving the athletic careers of their children. This was the tragic fringe element of the athletic parent-child relationship. I was hoping to gain insight into the motivation of so-called "Helicopter Parents" that I could apply to tennis, but unfortunately, the story that aired was cartoon-like in it's characterization of self-righteous, self-indulgent, abusive parents pouring their vicarious dreams into their innocent children like they were empty athletic wishing wells.
These were not merely "Helicopter Parents." The subjects in this documentary were dysfunctional drones. Parents have always urged their children to achieve both in and out of sports, and it's very difficult to find that perfect balance of ingredients that Sports Psychologist Dr. Larry Lauer called "Optimal Push." Some parents are bullies and abusers in athletics, academics, the arts and in almost any interaction with their children.
The parent of a very young female golfer in this documentary talked about "Selling a dream." I hope for the sake of young athletes everywhere that HBO was just selling a real but rare nightmare.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.