Is there anything more unattractive than a young person who believes that they are ‘entitled’ or indeed a parent who unintentionally fuels this?
Would we even know or be aware that this is happening? I am not sure…..
This is not about judging and tarnishing everyone with the same brush but trying to make sense of this or what may be underlying this perceived ‘entitlement’ is certainly worth exploring.
Having traveled the world recently and visited a number of different environments from schools to performance programmes the word seems to be cropping up more than ever before.
“Ambition is when you expect yourself to close the gap between what you have and what you want.
Entitlement is when you expect others to close the gap between what you have and what you want.”
– James Clear
Most parents wouldn’t like to see entitled attitudes in their children, coaches can get frustrated with it and some of the behaviours that come from this perceived position of privilege are not a helpful characteristic when it comes to positive cultures, team unity and cohesion.
The problem around privilege and a perceived entitlement attitude is that it is normally established out of love or caring for others.
Children may get rewarded for unearned behaviours with parents wanting to smooth the path for their children and make it better than it was for them.
Encouraging this sense of entitlement and removing opportunities for developing resilience removes feelings of competence and autonomy from personal development and growth which we know is essential in healthy sporting and emotional development.
I didn’t grow up with things being handed to me. I had to work hard.
— Serena Williams
The problem is that this approach does not help our children when it comes to long term development in their sport. Young people have to go through disappointment, learn how to problem solve, manage some of their own battles, and adapt to different situations and learn how to rise positively to challenges.
Whilst we may see some short-term wins with us being more involved than we perhaps should be as parents, we are not necessarily helping set up our children for longer term ‘success’.
We need to be brave and let our children work hard for their goals and ultimately, their success. The payoff may not be sporting success, but it will be children of stronger character who can thrive in whatever walk of life they choose to go into.
There is a desire in sport to improve with a high focus on mastery and personal development and a focus on effort. Supporting a sense of entitlement or fighting battles for our children may remove these areas or opportunities for growth.
People high in (self appointed) entitlement believe that they should get what they want because of who they are, have high expectations that can go unmet and in team environments struggle to have positive relationships with teammates, always feeling that it is about them and when things are not going so well that they are being treated unfairly and someone else is (always) to blame.
I was recently discussing this topic with a coach in a Public School, not specifically in a sporting context and their reply to my concerns in their environment was ‘they all live on estates and in mansions, get the best educational opportunities so what do you expect?’
My response was, ‘just because they are given these opportunities does not mean we should be condoning them to behave in this way but we should be helping them to understand how this may be presenting itself and how they could perhaps go about things in a different way.’
We also have to be careful not to label as many in these environments do not behave in this way and maximise their opportunities in the most positive way possible.
In sport there are times where young sportspeople are given access to some incredible environments, amazing coaching opportunities, fantastic trips and also have a lot of things done for them on a regular basis to allow them to focus on just delivering their best possible performance as an athlete.
This is understandable but working with young people around their own self-awareness is also important as there may be some negative behaviours attached to these opportunities if not managed correctly or addressed quickly.
A recent video with Erling Haaland probably triggered me into putting pen to paper on this topic as his approach to his kit man.
This was about a player who treated everyone around him with some basic respect as opposed to a number of players before him who by their actions whether intended or not showed real disdain to the kit man as a human being.
Did they just think that was his job?
Did they see the kit man as someone beneath them?
Only they will know the answer to that and of course the snapshot of the video that went viral may be an unfair depiction of what the relationships between them actually look like.
This is a far cry from the All Blacks culture of ‘better people make better All Blacks’ as standards set off the field reflect standards on the field.
It also reminded me recently of this quote:
It is a good idea to be ambitious…but it is a terrible mistake to let drive and ambition get in the way of treating people with kindness and decency.
— Robert Solow
My other fear for those who are given these incredible opportunities at a young age without the correct support and guidance is that when they leave these environments, the real adult world often looks nothing like this.
- Young footballers who played in high level academies but then were released and who suddenly find themselves having to train and play in the lowest divisions as they enter adulthood
- The public school child who has had access to the best facilities and has had access to high quality coaching sessions in relatively comfortable environments
When they move into adulthood no longer is anyone washing your kit, no one telling you that you must be at training, no one really cares about your background as you are just another athlete at that point in time competing. Sometimes the facilities are not at the level that you have been accustomed to all of this can be a lot to take on board and persevere with.
For some, it can just be too much like hard work when everything previously has been laid on a plate for them and they simply fall out of sport.
In the long term we know mental health issues in athletes are escalating.
Does some of this privilege contribute in a small way to this?
Many of these young people live unrealistic lives, in some cases with unrealistic goals and are often under enormous pressure and strain and those around them believe that they need to do all that they can for these athletes only adding to their sense of entitlement.
What happens when this is removed, and they are no longer in sport or performing at the level that they once were?
I must stress that this is not about removing ‘opportunity’ in any way whatsoever; we want lots of people to have the most incredible opportunities, but I think we all have a responsibility around the management of those opportunities.
To give some examples of entitlement that we may see around sport:
The athlete who seeks instant gratification and expects the coach to help them get there.
This can result in athletes who do not look to give and receive, who do not always arrive with the right attitude but just take and expect and think solely about themselves.
They do not recognise that sporting development is a long, messy and complex process and are impatient.
Many coaches we have spoken with can often see and become frustrated in this type of behaviour in parents as well, those who are expecting results, yet the attitude and approach of their children is not giving them any chance of achieving them.
There is a lot for us all to ponder and consider but what can we do as parents to ensure that the opportunities and privileges that we may be able to provide our children with do not lead to a display of ‘entitlement attitudes’ that may hinder them both in and out of sport?
- Set consistent boundaries and stick to them
This is not always easy but ensuring that our children do not get away with poor behaviour is a great starting point. Help establish clear boundaries and consequences, have healthy expectations, stay consistent to your values as a family and do not condone any poor behaviour that goes against this.
The more we let things slide, letting the small things go and make allowances for poor behaviour the more challenging it will become later on in trying to re-establish these boundaries.
- Don’t feel you need to react and respond immediately to their demands
This can happen regularly if we are talking about some smaller things but things that are bigger than this, we need to help our children understand that not everything can be instant.
- Try not to do everything for them
Encourage them to start taking some responsibility. This can range from giving them chores and roles at home to encouraging them to pack their own bags and help you with their scheduling for the week. It should not always be down to you!
- Don’t fight all of your child’s battles for them
There are many times as parents where our instinct is to go in and protect particularly when things have gone wrong.
However, take a step back and ask yourself if you are truly needed?
Will this problem solve itself?
Is this just some disappointment that my child will have to go through?
Can they solve the problem by speaking to a teacher, coach or teammate?
Encourage your children to problem solve, guide them in the right direction offering suggestions but try to let them take ownership of situations where that is possible.
However, this does not apply when things are totally out of order and control and needs adult intervention. Never be afraid to speak up and step in at this stage.
- Help them become more process rather than outcome driven
Try not to become too fixated on outcomes or outcome goals, sometimes we are in very little control of some of these.
Instead get them to focus on the processes that may help them achieve their goals and outcomes.
Celebrate and cheer with your children when they display some of the amazing traits that underpin them as people which will ultimately lead to positive outcomes in the long run.
Determination, resilience, creativity, being a good teammate, being adaptable, making good decisions, being good communicators to name just a few.
- Help them to understand disappointment, failure and making mistakes are part of life
This is one of the hardest things for us to go through as a parent and can be so tough when our children are involved in sport. However, if we can get comfortable and our children comfortable that these are all part of the sporting journey, are going to be an inevitable part of their lives and work with them to react positively and find solutions as they arise then we will be going a long way to helping them see the world for what it is.
This is a far easier thing to support and manage when our children are younger than trying to pick up the pieces with teenagers whose behaviours and thought processes are more firmly ingrained.
Much of it may not apply to you but our own self-awareness around our children’s sport as many of you will have heard me speak about before is essential and this is jut another thing for us to consider in our own contexts.