The earliest pushy sports parents we know of were European--the fathers of Suzanne Lenglen, the French tennis player of the 1920s, and Sonja Henie, the Norwegian figure skater who won Olympic gold in '28, '32 and '36. Surely, though, the greatest numbers of the awful breed are to be found in the U.S., where legions of parents relentlessly drive children toward the goal of athletic glory.
Bravo has turned its cameras on five such sports-obsessed families. Sports Kids Moms & Dads (Wednesdays, 10 p.m.) depicts four mothers and a father seeking to fashion champions out of their dutiful get. It's an absolutely compelling series, all the more so because we are so repelled by the parents and touched by the children, these surrogates for their parents' delusion.
The most painful stories are those of the two youngest aspirants, both eight: Trenton, a future NFL star from California, and Sarah, the would-be cheerleading champ from Texas. Her mother, Sharon, has her on a schedule that makes Sisyphus seem like a slacker: At one point a three-hour dance lesson is followed by a cheerleading match. We're advised that tot cheerleading in Texas is so competitive because of the "role models" down there. Yes, friends, those role models would be the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Huge numbers of parents egg their children on so the kids might earn that all-American freebie, the athletic scholarship. But the five moms and dads here aren't after anything so mundane. They only have eyes for gold medals, all-pro. And their consenting to be so intimately filmed says they believe they're raising kids in a way that is good and right.
Sadly, though, for every Serena Williams or Tiger Woods, there are thousands more parent-driven kids who fail the test and forfeit childhood. The greatest compliment to the Bravo series is that it is so unsparing in its portrayal of these parents that it is difficult to watch. -- Frank Deford