Sports and the Hypocrisy of Parenting

There are so many hypocrisies when it comes to parenting. We tell our kids not to do something and then we go and do it ourselves. As an adult we are responsible for our own actions and as a child, especially when they are very young, they cannot make decisions for themselves that will always be beneficial to their lives. It is understandable that even if you are a smoker or drinker that you will protect your child’s health and make sure that they don’t take up the habit, or even have only one alcoholic drink or cigarette now and then. Yes that makes perfect sense to everyone…

Kids Playing Football Wikimedia Commons - Josh Adkins
Kids Playing American Football
Even with helmets and pads the risk of injury is high
Wikimedia Commons – Photo: Josh Adkins

It was reported in the mainstream news in Australia last week the Co-director of Boston University’s Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Chris Nowinski is in the country meeting officials from the AFL and NRL discussing research into the effects of head injuries, especially concussion on athletes. It has sparked debate on radio and in particularly sporting shows about whether you should let your kids play contact sports.

Only a week or two before Mr Nowinski was in the headlines in Australia, news outlets in the States were reporting that legendary NFL star Tony Dorsett announced he had signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in many former football players, boxers, and hockey players. One of my fellow Dad Bloggers from the US posted a link to a news story about the revelations from the Super Bowl Champion Dorsett in our discussion group. He also posed this question; would you let your son play football?

I am sure the debate is raging on in households around the world. Using the archaic and stereotypical view the “dad says ‘yes’ and mum says ‘no'” scenario would be all too common. There would be many fathers who would love their child to play in a major recognised league so that he could live vicariously through his child’s achievements on the field. I expect they would be some mothers who would also love to see their sons become sporting heroes, and with netball being as big as it is in this country, I’m sure both parents would also love their daughter to succeed in that too.

But when we look at sports where parents start to question whether they want their own kids to participate to attention is inevitably on those full contact sports such as Australian Rules Football, Rugby League, Rugby Union, American Football, and Ice Hockey. I expect that the debate also surrounds those interested in playing Lacrosse, Water Polo, Wrestling, Sumo, and Team Handball (you know, that weird sport that you think is only played at the Olympics but has huge European following). And although they are not considered contact sports (but by definition are semi-contact sports due to unintentional contact with other players or the ball), Soccer and Netball should both be added to the list.

Now I titled this post “Sports and the Hypocrisy of Parenting” for a couple of reasons. My opening paragraph is testament to one of them and there are many books, articles and blogs discussing the countless hypocrisies that are faced in the world of parenting, but I want to discuss just these that I have isolated in regards to your child and sports…

In a world of seven billion people it would be pretty safe to assume that there would be more than a handful of parents out there who participate in contact sports but would not want their children to do so. It would also be safe to assume that this could be because of several factors.

  • Age – My child is too young to play (insert contact sport).
  • Size – My child is too small (and in height, stature or build) to play (insert contact sport). This is something that is becoming prevalent in Australian sports such as Rugby League and Rugby Union based on the increase in people from the Pacific Islander regions, especially the Polynesian moving to Australia and getting their kids to play. It has often sparked debate as to whether children should be graded by weight rather than age with many Polynesian children having the build of children much older than their actual age.
  • Gender – My daughter cannot play (insert contact sport), but if I had a son I would let him play.

On Facebook and via email I have seen friends share those memes that go along the lines of “we were the last generation that played in the streets…” and the one where they say that Generation X kids were tougher (although I’m sure the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation would disagree with that, you know, with “those wars and all…” And I have seen those same people share stories about or update their status with comments in relation to not letting their kids play dangerous sports.

Seriously, I think kids that are being born today are going to be as tough, if not tougher if. we. let. them.

One thing that I struggle to get my head around is those who love a sport but wouldn’t want one of their own playing in the event that they get injured. So it is okay for someone else to send their children out for your enjoyment, but your own child is better than that, hey?

It is total hypocrisy. That’s what it is.

I am a sports fan. I enjoy watching most sports, but I remember when Rugby League used to market itself as The Greatest Game of All (as dubbed by the pre-eminent broadcaster from Brisbane, George Lovejoy) and to this day I still see it as exactly that; the greatest game of all. And yes, I would love our boys to follow in my footsteps and at the very least play the game at park level (that’s a few steps down from playing for your country, but…) We will let them decide. Right now, neither of them show interest, but at 5-years-old and 2-years-old and without an obsessed parent forcing them to play or even watch the sport, that is understandable.

As I wrote in my post The Ten Commandments of Parenting, in position number 6, it was the opening line;

6. Do not pass on prejudices that you have to your child.

Just because you don’t like sport doesn’t mean you should stop you child from liking it.

And to add to that, just because you don’t want your child to play that sport doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let them if they want to and are good at it. You might have the next Andrew Johns, Tony Lockett, David Campese, Troy Aikman, Wayne Gretzky, Liz Ellis, or David Beckham living under your roof. And the world might be a poorer place for their talent to be stuck on a shelf because of the fear that they will get hurt or even killed playing a contact sport.

There’s no fine line between over-protective parenting and neglectful parenting. Allowing your child to play football, whatever the code is not neglect. You are not a bad parent for letting your child play, even if they get hurt.

My own parents didn’t let me play Rugby League as part of an organised sport, both outside school and as a school sport. Yet, every afternoon during football season I would play full body contact with a bunch of friends in our local park. We didn’t wear pads. We didn’t wear headgear. We didn’t have referees making sure there were no head-high tackles. There were head clashes. There were no doubt “falcons” (read the definition here), and there were slams into the ground at full speed, head first. And yet I survived.

I climbed a tree and fell out a few times. I got injured doing that. Tree climbing IS NOT a contact sport.

I rode my bicycle down the steepest hill looooooong before bike helmets became compulsory and yes, I fell off having some terrible injuries. Bike riding IS NOT a contact sport.

I sat on the other side of a seesaw with my much older brother on the other side until he got bored and left while I was up in the air. I came crashing down, bumped off and landed right on my butt severely bruising my tail bone. Seesawing IS NOT a contact sport.

We had a continual game of chasing that was played everyday for almost the whole school year back when I was about 10. If you were the person in when the bell went you had to guard a tree which was home base preventing the other players from reaching it and becoming safe. I took it pretty seriously. Well all did. Dressed in my school uniform I slid in to touch the tree whilst the boy who was in dived at me and his knee hit my temple knocking me out. I spent 24 hours at my local hospital where they had me under observation. I wasn’t allowed to go to sleep. I remember it as clear as day.

I am not trying to convince you to make your child play a contact sport. I am not trying to shame those parents who follow the sport but don’t let their children play it. I am just bringing awareness to a hypocrisy that I think is unfounded.

So what is your take on this? Do you let your child play a contact sport, and if so, at what age did you let them start playing? ANd if you don’t want your child to play a contact sport but you follow that sport, why not? Why can’t they play?

2 thoughts on “Sports and the Hypocrisy of Parenting

  1. Interesting post. I have some thoughts.

    -The caption for the photo might more accurately read, “because of helmets and pads the risk of injury is high.”

    -I don’t think there’s much hypocrisy in working with new information. Even if I played, but won’t let them play it’s not hypocritical to make decisions based on current knowledge rather than whatever I did when I was young.

    -To me the examples feel a lot like, “Well you could get hurt stepping off the curb.” And you can, and I have. But all that’s different than putting your children in a situation where they are very likely to get hurt as part of the point of the endeavor, as opposed to letting them be kids and do things that have some small amount of risk.

    -I watch football. I play Madden. I also watch war documentaries and take the kids to old battlefields. I’m not going to encourage them to join the military. I don’t think there’s hypocrisy there either.

    -My kids can play Union or soccer or basketball. I’d be wary of League because they don’t seem to penalize no-wrap tackles. If they want to play football they’ll have go the Hayne route and do it as adults.

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