Fiona McCade: A fine line between support and pushing

Years ago, I knew a guy who loved golf. He loved it so much that the moment his baby son could walk, he put a club in the child’s hand and taught him to putt.

I think the proud father had read that Tiger Woods started playing before he was two, so he was determined to turn out a prodigy of his own.

I’ll admit, the kid was impressive, but perhaps that was inevitable, given that he did little else. While other children were playing in the park, he was out on the course with his dad – and winning.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Not having any children of my own at the time, I just assumed that if the kid didn’t like it, he wouldn’t do it. Now I’m a mother, I know that it’s not that simple.

The summer of 2012 has created a huge wave of enthusiasm for sport in Britain, so perhaps it’s not surprising that, according to a new survey, 60 per cent of Scottish parents say they’ve been inspired to encourage their children to get involved in competitive sporting activities.

If this leads to a fitter, healthier, happier Scotland, then nobody will applaud louder than me. The trouble is, I’m haunted by that mini, wannabe Tiger Woods, because I’m not sure if the boy himself was a wannabe. His father, however, definitely was.

This recent surge of interest in all things sporting has been called the “Judy Murray Effect” after Andy and Jamie’s famous mother. Long ago, well before Andy reached the Wimbledon final, won Olympic gold or triumphed at the US Open, people were accusing Judy of being a pushy parent. She has always denied it, saying that she simply took a lot of time to do lots of activities with her boys, and that she was “just a mum who enjoyed playing sports with her kids”, but some critics still refuse to be convinced.

All I know is that there can be a very fine line between supporting your child and shoving them; being ambitious for them and being aggressive for them; backing them all the way and browbeating them. And I have met at least one parent who simply didn’t know when he’d crossed it.

The timing of this survey bothers me. I would be less worried if all those Scottish parents had simply decided that their kids would benefit from sport because sport is good. However, suddenly coming to the conclusion that sport is the way forward after a summer of glittering success makes me a tad uneasy.

Maybe I’m suspicious because I’m not at all sporty, but I have tried to introduce my seven-year-old to the joys of physical exercise, honestly I have. I took him to a football try-out day when he was five – he hated it; ditto rugby; ditto fencing; then I forced him (yes, forced; I never said I was perfect) to endure a year of judo.

Then I gave up. Perhaps he’s unlucky because his mother isn’t actively guiding him towards an activity in which he can excel. By letting him find his own way, I’m obviously wasting precious years, but having seen for myself how powerful and overwhelming a truly determined parent can be, I’ve decided that it’s not a road I want to go down.

If Junior ever shows the slightest interest in anything physically taxing, I’ll be there, waving him on, but until then, it’s obviously my fate to be one of the 40 per cent of parents who aren’t going to build upon the glories of 2012.

There’s no doubt that Scotland’s future sporting stars won’t get very far without forceful, dedicated parents, who are willing to make sacrifices for them. I admire people who are committed to helping their children realise their dreams; just so long as it’s the children’s dreams that are being realised.

It’s at times like this that I find myself thinking about Scotland’s answer to Tiger Woods. He’ll be a teenager by now, so I wonder if he’s still playing, or whether he’s finally told his father where to stick that five-iron.

If I watch the Ryder Cup in 2020, I suppose I might find out.