Ugly Parent Syndrome. It just got a little bit uglier.

Oh goody.  Scientists have identified several genes and gene combinations that contribute to athletic traits.

A gene called ACTN3, for example, is known as the “speed gene.”  Not so bad.  But what is er, interesting is that companies are offering mail-order test kits that let people check which variant of the gene they have, to determine whether they might be better suited to endurance running or sprinting, for example. And some people? Well, they’re checking their kids’ genes. For inherent sporting talent.

Suddenly screaming on the soccer field sidelines doesn’t seem so competitive when it comes to ugly parent syndrome. Author and regular Mamamia contributor Kylie Ladd writes…

You WILL excel at sports!!!

“I was going to be cool about it. My eight year old daughter, Cameron, was swimming a zone final in the fifty metres butterfly. A win or a second place would take her through to the regional finals, just one step below state titles, but she was quite calm about it, so I was determined I would be too. I hung around the marshalling area, as she’d requested, so she could see me before she climbed onto the blocks, and planned to stay there for the whole of her race. Oh, I’d watch of course, but that fifty metres takes a long time for young swimmers. I thought I might listen to my iPod or chat with one of the other team mums while I waited for it to be over.

But of course I didn’t. As soon as the gun went off I was scrambling to get to the side of the pool. No-one other than officials and swimmers was supposed to be there, so I found myself pushing through the spectators instead, trying to keep level with Cam, who was coming second. I raced past my own team without a glance, then began to yell as I saw her put on some speed in an attempt to overhaul the girl in front. Fifteen metres to go… ten… some madwoman in the crowd was screaming “Come on! Come on! COME ON COME ON COME ON”, and when the cheering stopped and Cam had won I found it was me.

I never thought I’d be the sort of parent who shrieked until her throat bled at children’s sporting events. The first swim squad Cam tried featured mothers clutching stopwatches and scribbling notes in little booklets in between calling out things like “Sally! Sally! That’s a new PB! But do watch your tumbleturns. You’re still going too early.” Too much, I decided, and left that club. Too much pressure, too much involvement. If I had to be at swim squad I wanted to be sitting on the sidelines with a book, not worrying that Cam’s splits were half a second slower than last week’s.

Plus I didn’t like the way those mothers looked. “Ugly parent syndrome” is so called for a reason. Think Damir Dokic’s mad tirades, glinting eyes and contorted features;  think of the Ukrainian father caught on camera a few years ago at the Swimming World Championships in Melbourne slapping his daughter after a poor heat time. Such events are occurring in sporting’s big-time, but there are plenty going on at the grass roots level too. A friend told me of her daughter being physically dragged off the court by an opposition mother during an u/11 netball game, after the woman became incensed that the umpire hadn’t pulled up the player for stepping. In 2009, the NRL considered banning parents from all junior rugby games after a 12 year old boy was set on by a father from the opposing side. And then there was the Melbourne soccer dad fined $3000 for attacking a rival team’s parent with a broken umbrella.

So far I’ve restricted myself to yelling encouragement at Cam’s swim meets and haven’t yet pushed any other parents in the pool, but I’m well aware- and a bit ashamed- of my surging adrenalin whenever I watch her race. “I was never a competitive anything, but I fear I may be a competitive parent,” Mamamia’s site manager, Lana, told me when we first talked about this piece. Part of this is pride, of course, and the knowledge of what your child will gain from winning- happiness, self-esteem, an identity. Part too is ego, the perhaps subconscious belief that your offspring’s performance will reflect on you and the job you’ve done in raising them. And sometimes part of it is rooted in our long-gone dreams and hopes…. I was once a competitive swimmer myself, and I know I get more worked up when Cameron swims than when she does gymnastics (which is lucky, as there are already plenty of mad gym mums to go around).

Surely that’s better, though, than the opposite. After one of my swimming tweets, a Twitter friend told me- quite sadly- that her parents had never once come to watch her race, though she got to a high level and competed for a number of years. In Jonathan Franzen’s bestselling novel “Freedom” the heroine Patty’s grief at her mother never attending Patty’s college basketball games is still with her in her fifties. Like most things, it’s a question of balance- cheer, but don’t criticise; scream but remember that it’s not the Olympics- and even if it is, it’s still only sport, not a war.

That said, Cam swims her regional final next week. If you’re planning to be there for your own child I’d ask you to stand well back. I’m going to need the space to run along beside her, shouting.


Have you witnessed the ugly parent syndrome? Do you get worked up when your own kids compete?

If you notice that things are looking a little more special on Mamamia lately – you are right.  We launched Mamamia 3.0 on Monday and we hope you love it as much as we do.  If you have any feedback at all please click here to add your voice – Thanks from the Mamamia Team

00:00 / ???