Lawnmower Parents are the new ‘Helicopter Parents’ in youth sports

lawnmower parents vs helicopter parents

We’ve seen them everywhere we travel with our kids. They’re usually carrying their kids bags, filling up their water bottles for them, making sure that their child has the newest and latest gear, and are grandstanding whenever their kid has a problem.  This troubling trend of parenting  has been evolving so rapidly amongst the next generation of parents that it has garnered it’s own name for them: lawnmower parents.

What is a ‘lawnmower parent’?

Well, unfortunately lawnmower parents are a new breed of parent that coaches and educators see way too much of in today’s society.  

Lawnmower parents are the parents that step in and fight their child’s daily life battles in an attempt to “protect” their child from any problem, inconvenience, or pain points that the majority of society will experience on a daily basis.

These parents are the ones that usually scurry over to coaches and administrators to “voice their concerns” in order “make sure that their child has every opportunity to succeed.” They also try to “bend over backwards” so that their child can be successful. 

Lawnmower parents are the types of parents who:

  • Allow their kids to “vent” to them and then take action for them
  • Blame coaches and administrators for their child’s performance or lack thereof
  • Ask for special treatment when their child is underperforming 
  • Intervene on any possible difficult situation for their child and ask for special circumstances
  • and save their child from any potential problems by swooping in to “make things right”

High school and college coaches across the country are being forced to speak to parents about their child’s satisfaction, which years ago was taboo and unheard of. It’s an unwritten rule at the higher levels of play that elite coaches just don’t deal with parents. That’s because its expected that your child can solve his/her own problems when they’re 16-20 years old.

Now more than ever as parents try to eliminate adversity from their kids lives, they’re creating the next wave of adults who are entitled, dependent, and unable to solve their own problems.

Although they believe they’re being good parents because they’re taking action on their child’s behalf, what lawnmower parents fail to understand is that their actions towards solving their child’s problems is actually detrimental to their child’s development.

What do lawnmower parents shield their kids from?

Lawnmower parents are raising a generation of dependent and entitled athletes because they’re shielding their children from a list of pivotal skills including, but are not limited to:

  • The ability to form a daily routine and stick with it
  • Learning time management so that they can fully honor everything they commit to
  • Development of communication skills with their superiors
  • Negotiating for special circumstances and understanding the sacrifices that others make for them to accommodate them
  • The ability to make tough decisions
  • Having a “Why” and developing personal drive
  • Understanding and experiencing what adversity and resiliency truly feel like
  • Understanding commitment and realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around them

Although most lawnmower parents in sports probably come from a good place with their best intentions, they’re hindering their child’s development because they mow down all of their problems before they even experience them.

Why is being a lawnmower parent such a big deal?

When you raise children who have not experienced any struggle in their lives except for the struggle of honoring their commitments, you’re not creating a happier generation of kids. You’re creating a dependent generation of kids who will lack the ability to overcome adversity and solve their own problems. 

There may be many reasons why lawnmower parents go to great lengths to get their kids more playing time, solve their kid’s class scheduling issues, or ask for extensions because their child is tired or “burnt out”.

Even if you believe that you can justify the reasons why you handle your child’s problems, ask yourself this:

How is your child going to handle adversity when you’re not around?

They won’t be able to and they’re not going to – They’re going to crumble.

Instead, they’ll fly. They’ll run away from their problems and learn how to point the finger of blame when they get hit with adversity.  That’s why you see so many kids transfer away from programs when they “don’t get what they were promised” instead of digging deep and proving their coaches wrong.

The common excuses that come from lawnmower parents go something like this:

“He/She is going to (insert program name here) because it’s (provide lame excuses here – aka it’s just a good situation for him/her, it’s better for their development, etc.)”.

As coaches, we hear these lame excuses all of the time from sports parents and its complete bull. They’re just excuses for this wave of parents to justify their actions when they shield their child from everything that could potentially “hurt” them.

When it comes to lawnmower parents, gone are the days of digging in, grinding it out, and beating your competition to earn playing time. Here are the days of expensive personal trainers, the “right situation” or “right team” for their child, and giving kids what they want before they’ve even earned it.

Lawnmower parents believe that they’re protecting their young from getting scars. But, what they fail to realize is that scars heal and the skin grows back tougher than it was before. A child’s lack of experience with adversity can become detrimental to their mental development and doesn’t develop their emotional intelligence.

If you’re one of those lawnmower parents in sports who’s having trouble watching their child overcome adversity, you should follow these three guidelines to start:

  1. Instead of shielding them from failure at an early age, you should allow them to experience it, learn from it, and understand that failure is not the end of the world.
  2. Instead of fighting their battles for them, you should empower your child to handle their problems with their coaches and teammates. Let them experience what true problem solving feels like.
  3. And, instead of handling all of their mundane tasks for them, let them do it on their own. You’re not going to stress them out, you’re going to teach them responsibility and allow them to experience the consequences if they drop the ball on something.

Then, you need to ask yourself: Aren’t those the skills that you want your child to enter the adult world with?

More than 98% of NCAA athletes don’t play sports as a professional.  So, you need to get it in your head that your kid isn’t going to play pro. And, if they do, its going to be for such a short period of time that they’re not going to make a career out of it.

Empower your child to make decisions, handle adversity, and determine what their passion is going to be in life. And then encourage them to chase it.

Quit asking the question “How do I give my child everything so that they have the tools to be successful” and start asking “What knowledge can I share with them so that they can solve their problems on their own.”

As hard as it may be to watch your child struggle, you need to understand that shielding them from failure isn’t doing them any favors. 

Encourage your child to solve their own problems, over communicate with their peers and superiors, and overcome adversity. 

An athlete who’s never had to overcome adversity will not handle criticism well when they get to the higher levels of play. They won’t adopt the mentality of: “Man, coach is on me. I need to pick it up and show some more effort to fix my problems or else I’m going to be toast.”

Instead, they’re going to call you and blame their coach for their problems.  They’ll say that their coach either “doesn’t like them” or “won’t give them a chance” and subtly ask that they have nowhere to turn to, which in turn will make you feel obligated to help.

Where lawnmower parents go wrong in this situation is by stepping in and offering to call the coach to see what the problem is instead of telling them to suck it up and go talk to the coach themselves.

One of our favorite college coaches, who we will keep anonymous, says that parents are trying to become involved more every year. He says that he usually gets a text message from the parent asking if they can “talk about their son’s development”.

“It’s hilarious,” he said, “Parents today will call asking if they can talk about their child’s development but in about 2 minutes the conversation goes into one of two things: Their child is either not happy with their playing time or they’re not happy with their role on the team.

It doesn’t make any sense to me why a player would call 500 miles down the road to have their parents call the coach to ask about their role on the team, especially when that person is completely detached from what’s going on here on a daily basis. And, most of the time, the parents have no idea why they’re calling. Instead of walking down the hallway to speak to me like an adult, these players with these parents are complaining to them so that they feel compelled to call me up on their child’s behalf to fight their battles.

Every time it happens, its hard as a coach to not look at them differently because the athlete has pretty much told you that they have no fortitude or maturity.

As a coach, how are you supposed to trust a kid like that when the game is on the line?

You can’t.”

The next time that your child wants you to handle their problems, the hardest thing you’ll have to do is tell them NO.

If you want to raise a young athlete that has a greater chance of becoming successful, then you need to swallow your pride as a parent and take a back seat in their lives.  Teach them how to handle adversity, guide them by teaching them how to overcome their challenges, and show them how to have confidence in themselves.

That’s how you prepare your child for the future – Not by solving their problems for them.