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Sports Psychology: Young Athlete Faces A Tough Challenge

Posted by: Dr. Granat on March 24, 2006

Student-athletes experience a substantial amount of stress because of the


intense pressure, scrutiny and wide range of constant challenges which they are required

to deal with in an effective manner. Besides having to compete, student athletes need to

deal with coaches, the media, friends, academics, teammates and, in some instances, a

difficult parent. These can be daunting tasks for a young person.

Last year, a very talented high school golfer came to see me because he

was performing quite poorly in big tournaments. This young man was a

golf star as a youngster and many people thought he would get a scholarship to a

top golf school like Duke, University of Arizona or North Carolina and that

he could possibly make it as a professional.

This athlete’s father had made many sacrifices to advance his son’s golf

career. The family of six would travel around the country to attend tournaments.

Large sums of money were spent on lessons, golf schools and golf camps.

Unfortunately, this young man’s father was also a bit of a tyrant when it came

to his son’s golf. If his son played poorly or lost, the father would have what

amounted to an adult temper tantrum. He would pout and be nasty to all of his

kids including the golfer.

Initially, the teenager downplayed his father’s intensity around his

performance during his sessions with me. His father said he could be a little

intense, but didn’t feel he was out of control.

After a few counseling sessions with the athlete, his mother called

me and explained a bit more about the destructive nature of her husband’s behavior

where her son was concerned.

According to the athlete’s mother, the younger children would leave the house

when their father drove into the driveway if their brother had a bad day on

the course. This kind of behavior had been going on for quite some time and

apparently, she could not convince her spouse to calm down and be kinder

gentler toward their son. There was simply no getting through to her husband

where this issue was concerned.

This nice, young, teenager became so terrified of his father’s reactions that he

simply not perform in the tournaments he had to do well in order to get the

athletic scholarship that his father was counting on. .

Not surprisingly, the teenager was quite frustrated, anxious and depressed when he

came to me for therapy.

Sadly, when I tried to encourage the father to back off and ease up on his son, he

refused to listen to my advice as he felt that his son needed to get tough. He

failed so see that what his son really needed to feel loved by him whether he played

poorly or well.

Unfortunately, we therapists, like other helping professionals, don’t succeed with

every patient who comes to see us.

The behavior of overly competitive parents has received much coverage

in the media over the last ten years. We have heard about parents becoming

violent at their kid’s athletic events. I have worked with many of these kinds

of parents and many have changed their attitudes and their behaviors where their

children’s sports are concerned.

If you are a father or mother of a talented young athlete, be sure that your child

feels loved, supported and understood as his or her sports career progresses.

Jay P. Granat, Ph.D., is a Psychotherapist in Fort Lee, NJ. He can be reached at For more information,

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