Lessons Learned

Should You Tell Your Kids They Won’t Go Pro?

I never thought I would play professional sports.

My husband thought he might.

I made the misstep last night of telling our 12-year-old that the chances of him becoming a professional hockey player are pretty miniscule.

I struggled with the reaction of both my husband and my son as they told me I was a dream-crusher.

That’s the last thing I wanted to do, but I couldn’t quite understand why being realistic was such a bad thing.

It’s great that little boys have professional athletes to watch on television.  It’s easy for them to emulate them and to look up to them as bigger versions of themselves.

Girls don’t have that.  Girls know they are not going pro, but they play hard anyway.

Too many boys only play hard because they think that professional sports might be in their future.

It got me thinking, where is the balance, and how should I parent our athletes to become the best versions of themselves? I am contemplating this issue from the perspective of a mom of a boy and two daughters.

Should there be a double-standard about raising different-gendered athletes?

Right now I am of the mindset that there should not.

We have a sporting lifestyle because of the inherent good that can come from competing in team sports.  Given that our son likely has less than a .05% chance of playing for any length of time in the NHL, his chances of going pro are about the same as his sisters. The chances of professional competition for any of our kids is so small,  they should all be playing sports for many more reasons than a paying contract.

I don’t want to hurt our kids in any way, and my intention for the comment was to help him to know that we have no expectation for him to play pro.  He heard it that I don’t believe he can.


Dreams are healthy, and it is fun to imagine the possibilities. Goals take action and intent, and the approach to the pursuit of goals looks incredibly different. It would be unfair to all of our kids if I didn’t equip them with tools to pursue their goals.

I feel like I just spilled the beans about Santa Claus, and the structure of our son’s world has begun to reshape itself.  It comes down to whether he believes he is chasing a dream or whether he has a goal he believes he can attain.

If it becomes a goal to play at the highest level that is possible for him, his actions and approach will start to look different.  That’s up to him.  All we can do is help him to build that goal-parachute one stitch at a time. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to encourage him to take care of that back-up chute too.

So here are the crucial questions:

Should I have waited until he was older to talk about this? Should I have let him figure this out for himself?

Has this scenario played out in your house, and if so, how did it go for you?

To learn more about Meagan or her current book project, Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, visit her website www.meaganfrank.com.



Copyright 2012                Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow



20 replies »

  1. That’s a tough one. I’ve learned thru experience wanting to grow up to be an actress that “dream crushing” can be detrimental. I think you’ve got the right attitude. Be realistic but supportive. Set goals but be prepared for a plan B.

    • Alecia, Thanks for weighing in. I want to make a concerted effort to let my kids know that even when the world may not believe in them…I certainly do. They need to hear that from their parents at least!! Thanks for your perspective. MMF

  2. omigosh, meagan, i struggle with this exact same issue DAILY with my tennis-playing 15-yr-old son! at his present age, the dreams and goals seem to have meshed into one huge ball (pun intended) of plans, hard work, drive, and ambition. but, still, the chances of my son reaching his stated goal are slim . . . very, very slim . . . NOT because he isn’t good enough but rather because he’s one of hundreds (thousands?) of hard-working talented boys working toward the exact same thing that has room for a scant few at the top. what to do . . . what to do . . .

    • Parenting Aces…I am glad I’m not the only one who struggles with this. We do so much to help support our kids dreams and to give them the tools to achieve as much success as possible. Our best approach is to continue to believe right along with what they do. To be the support when they need us and to encourage when the chips are down. They will be equipped to tackle all parts of life if they can learn these tools on the court or on the ice rink. That’s the beauty (and challenge) of raising kids in the sports world. MMF

  3. Meagan, my approach on this one is simple. I think you nailed it when you talked about GOALS and DREAMS but the bottom line is this. Either way, you CAN be pragmatic about a kid’s goals without being a dream crusher. If a kid’s goal OR dream is to play shortstop for the Yankees, there’s nothing wrong with making sure that kid knows a few things like: what it takes to achieve that goal and how many other kids want that exact same goal. You can deliver that message without coming across as negative. If you speak pragmatically about it, the child will eventually figure out the odds on their own. Besides, we all set numerous goals in our lives and we don’t always achieve them. That’s just part of life. At the same time, setting one’s sights on a professional sports career without having a plan B is like jumping from a plane without a reserve chute in your pack. I don’t think there is anything wrong with pro sports aspirations as long as plan B (an education with a target for a normal career) is always in sight.
    There’s nothing wrong with telling your kid, “Hey, I think that’s a pretty serious goal and I really hope you get there. What do you think it would take to get there? That sounds like a ton of hard work and dedication, do you think you have that in you? I hope so, too and I really hope you get there and just know you have my support and that you always need to keep ALL your options open (School).”

    There’s a lot more to it than that and in fact, I’ll be doing a show on this again soon. It’s a great topic and VERY hard to encapsulate in just a blog post.

    GREAT topic and thanks for offering it up.


    Coach Tony

    • Thanks for your point of view Coach Tony! I’m glad to know that what I said sounds an awful like what you offer as talking points. I want our kids to believe in themselves, and I want them to know that I believe in them too. I will help to support anything they want to pursue, and I think your advice of pointing out “it’s going to be hard, but I’m behind you” is really the best approach to this. I appreciate your perspective. MMF

  4. Wonderful blog that required serious thought on your side, Meagan. Hard to say, I wouldn’t recommend not to do it unless you strongly felt there was serious lack of ability, talent or drive. Or he was 18 years old and not making the college team.

    You actually don’t know since your son is only 12 years old and often kids need to figure out that themselves. At 15-16 years old, it’s different. You can already see talent or motivation evolving. Given a reasonable amount of skill/talent, discipline and faith are two of the most important ingredients for success. At age 12, it’s too soon. Let’s think about the rationale. Consider if you look at mere probability, you could also point out he probably won’t be a heart surgeon, a senator, an ambassador, a general, a professional bowler, a CEO of Fortune 400 company, a video-game programmer, a leading Hollywood actor, a famous musician, a wide-recognized sculptor, a broadway producer, a best-selling novelist or a big-time TV host. You could also tell him he probably won’t go to Harvard, marry the hot singer coming up, the prettiest girl at school, the smartest girl in school, be a multi-millionaire, travel the world or live to 99 years old.

    Or let him know he won’t have a son who’ll become a professional hockey player.

    I would suggest 1) reading K. Anders Ericsson on development of talent and expertise and 2) finding out how famous athletes got where they did. Some stories might interest you.

    Not that you did anything wrong. And when he’s graduating from Yale heading to dental school, he’ll probably say that was the best advice he had. And you gave him the best advice you could at the moment. But we are human and all of us are wrong some of the time. In fact, the only thing I am certainly right about is being wrong some of the time.

    By the way, hope and dreams are why we live. Hope and dreams for one billion people might be just having a safe home, two-three meals a day and a bit of comfort. Many of them won’t have that. That’s reality. But it doesn’t mean we should give up trying to eradicate poverty or war.

    So having a dream is great but keep in mind, in three years, he might have a different dream. People often change their minds, change careers, change significant others, and change avocations. What they almost never change is family and themselves. Most of us just amble along, smell the roses and live day to day. Children should live day to day. And frankly, goals are overrated. Your son is not in business school, much less high school. You can’t have goals without dreams which lead to a vision, motivation, commitment and discipline.

    Remember the saying: Happiness is someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. Sometimes for a kid, the last two are the same. Experience is our best teacher and shakes us into reality. He doesn’t have enough experience yet.

    Anyhow, life is like a box of chocolate. He might actually surprise you.

    • Thanks so much for the reply Just Another Dog. You bring up some good points. I am happy to report that I have not completely destroyed my son’s dreams. In fact, I talked with him at more length after writing this piece, and he seems even more motivated to pursue his dreams (with a goal-oriented focus). The difficulty is not in arming our kids with belief and hope…they naturally do that on their own. The difficulty of parenting is helping them to learn the work required to achieve ANY of the things they want to pursue in their lives. I am lucky our kid is mature, and he has an open relationship with his dad and I. These philosophical discussions are not rare in our house, and I feel as though he knows we believe he has an incredible amount of potential (and talent)…I will continue to help him believe that for himself. MMF

  5. Tell ya what, Meagan. Forget about soon…with the NFL Draft coming up, I think the timing couldn’t be better to do another show on this topic. For your loyal fan base, the show airs Saturday mornings at 9 am EASTERN. For those outside the NY, CT area, you can listen online LIVE at http://www.heycoachtony.ihigh.com For those of you who want to share your opinions during the show, feel free to call 855 HEY COACH (439-2622)

    And Meagan, I hope your hectic hockey schedule allows you to call in to take credit for bringing this topic back onto my radar.


    Coach Tony

  6. It’s a frequently asked question and I’ve really enjoyed reading the thoughtful responses. We’ve taken a slightly structured approach with an entire team of athletes regarding this issue. Each one is asked to write a personal visioning document that basically states: “What I want to do with my life (other than play professional sports).” We feel it’s important for kids to spend time imaging and dreaming of the many things they could do, and some kids need a nudge to think beyond the current passion of their sport.
    As we all know, passions, motivation levels, and even talent can burst forth at unexpected times and become surprise chapters in our lives. Personally I’m less concerned about the lofty dreams that come from within a child than I am the lofty dreams imposed on a child from someone else.
    David Benzel

    • OK, I gotta ask. If none of you call in to Saturday’s show, can I please have permission to use some of this? Really, some great comments and very insightful. great job.

      • You of course have my permission…and these comments are technically public, so you have free reign. (as long as you do what you can to site your source.) I am looking forward to the discussion on Saturday. MMF

  7. Hi Meagan,
    Great question and definitely no black and white answer since thankfully we are all unique which lends to each situation being a little different.
    When my son was 15 he loved basketball and was dead set on playing basketball for Gonzaga University. I recall saying very little, something really intelligent like “cool.” I knew it was a longshot but figured it best to let it play out. He did not play basketball at Gonzaga but had a good career playing linebacker at nationally ranked Boise State University in football. At that time, either him or myself would have guessed it.
    Whether its hockey, football, or playing the violin, there are life lessons involved in the journey. Maybe it was too early for you to say something about the odds, but judging by his reaction it wasn’t. Gotta love his reaction to your comment …..sounds like it stoked a little fire. This kind of passion will lead him somewhere for sure. Gently blow on the flames as you go. Your concern about doing the right thing is what all sports parents should think about since too often we blow the flame completely out.

    • Thanks for commenting, Tim. I think it is wise to approach this question with several things in mind: the age and maturity of the kid, what intention there is in saying anything (in this case it was an accidental comment) and with discussion rather than lecture. I love that your son wanted to go to college for basketball and ended up playing football instead. That’s such a great story, and such an example of letting kids pursue their dreams…and encouraging them to take a new route if they need to. Thanks! MMF

  8. I would never recommend telling kids that they will “never” go pro, simply because such a “pragmatic” message can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if a child takes it as gospel from their adults and gives up trying. If they don’t have the athletic talent to begin with, perhaps it is an obvious conclusion. But what if they do?

    I have a 10 year-old daughter involved in highly competitive ASA travel softball, and a 14 year-old son involved in AAU travel baseball. Both of these kids are athletically talented to play at a higher level than typical town recreation leagues, so my wife and I make the significant sacrifices of time and money to ensure they have the opportunity to go as far as they can with their talent and extra training.

    Will either of them ever “go pro?” I hope so, but probably not based on the statistics. But that dosen’t mean that they won’t, and it also dosen’t mean they shouldn’t strive for it with everything they have. In fact, whether a kid ever goes pro isn’t even the right question. Don’t forget, success is a journey, not a destination: Hard work and commitment at an early age can lead to opportunities playing in High School. This can also lead to opportunities and scholarships playing in College. At the very least, it can open doors to college education that might not otherwise be available based on academics alone. Both of these are levels of success well within reach for any committed youth athlete that provide cherished memories and life-skills unattainable in other ways. Beyond that, who knows?

    The point is, the harder you work, the luckier you get: Kids should be encouraged to have the Dream, and then strive to achieve it through specific short and long-term goals and objectives. Along the way, they will discover for themselves just how much talent, passion, perseverance and drive is required for whatever athletic accomplishment they are committed to achieving.

    • Thanks for commenting, Soldiers’ Mail. I agree with you. It is incredibly destructive to the psyche of children, who have formulated a belief system about their potential, to tell them that they don’t have any chance at all. Our conversation with our son has continued since my first comment, and I’ve told him that nothing is impossible, but it takes incredible determination and work to make big dreams come true. He agrees. I think all kids need to hear that. It happens too often that kids hear, “you can do anything.” but then they are not given practical tools to actually DO anything about it. There needs to be a balance.

      Another part of this entire discussion is whether the dreams to go pro are the kids’…or the parents’. I may not have explained well enough in my blogpost that part of why I said what I said was in response to what sounded like some pressure he was putting on himself. I wanted to alleviate the pressure by letting him know that his dad and I don’t expect that he’ll be a pro. The other destructive approach some parents make is that they believe (or want) more than their kids a shot at the big leagues. I will follow his lead and help where he asks me to, support how he needs me to support him, but his dreams will ALWAYS be his dreams…not mine. MMF

  9. OK, folks…last call!!! I’ve gotten a few emails from those of you who plan on calling the show. I am putting the final touches on the show so I’d like to get a final tally on who is calling so I don’t read any of your posts here and steal your “on-air” thunder. email me at heycoachtony@gmail.com and let me know if you’ll be calling the show Saturday morning. Thanks for so many great thoughts on this topic.

  10. wow, that’s the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard. look at tim thomas, michael jordan, marty st. louis, etc. You should motivate your son as much as you can. yeah he might not go pro if he works as hard as he can, but if he loves the sport, he could play college hockey and pursue something in the hockey world (coaching, scouting, etc). hard work pays off no matter what.

    • I’m not sure I felt like I was being cruel. Cruelty depends upon malicious intent, and I was not trying to hurt him in any way. I was caught in a moment of realism that came out in my comment. I absolutely support his passion for hockey, and I encourage his passion in all other areas of his life too. If at one point he decides to pursue a profession in sports, I will cheer him on the entire way. I just think it is irresponsible to put all the eggs in one basket without a backup plan that includes the probability he’ll be doing something else with his life. MMF

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