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The idolatry of Little League parents and coaches


It’s that time of year again when all the Little League dads and moms come out to play. And by “play” I, of course, mean verbally abuse umpires and players before turning on one another.

A trend that has been growing in the United States for the past several years goes into high gear in mid-summer, as aggressive parents ruin the fun of what should be a child’s delightful pastime on the diamond. (Of course, these parents have been known to do the same at the local gymnasium or hockey rink at other times during the year.) This past spring Time even reported on a new trend—and new low—in children’s sports: “helicopter coaches,” screaming over-the-top types who take a fun game way too seriously

The problem is readily apparent, but the cause is not. Why do so many parents and coaches (often the same people) create such a ruckus about a kids’ game? A single word gives the answer: idolatry. Childish adults seek their self-worth in the successes of children and drive them to misery in the pursuit. In the process, the worth of the child is misplaced onto the shallow successes of base hits and victories. By looking for personal value in the wrong place, parents mislead kids about what’s valuable and remain lost themselves.

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Parents act this way under the banner of “helping” the players or “pushing them to succeed.” They do not recognize the harm they do, the fun they ruin, and the life they suck out of kids. Children neither stand up nor speak up for themselves to adults. They trust or they fear, which, in this case, can warp the child.

Maturity is evidenced by taking responsibility for one’s life and doing right in whatever circumstances it brings. Hanging one’s hopes on a child’s athletic success is just the opposite. Little League parents and helicopter coaches seem to be trying to fill a void in their own lives or repair something broken by using kids. But instead of filling or repairing themselves, they empty and break the children. That’s what idolatry, any misplaced hope and identity, does. It damages both the hopeful and one being asked to carry a burden too great.

As my daughters grow up they may never play sports at all. Currently, one loves music and the other dance. I still see the temptation to seek personal validation through their successes, though. The same goes for academic prowess, community service, or even church going and ministry involvement. The response I seek to foster in myself, though, is one of service. I am not here to live through my children but to serve and care for them. Parents (and coaches) are servants—servants with authority. My responsibility is to show my girls what seeking true success looks like in all circumstances and where their identity is found, not to place a burden on them to achieve either for me.

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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