Tiger coaches

Justine Toh on harsh parenting, abusive coaching, and the benefits of the Ted Lasso approach to success.

It’s been a decade since the tiger mum sprang onto the scene with the publication of Amy Chua’s best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.

Chua stirred up controversy with tales of her famously harsh parenting style. Like the way she threatened to burn her daughters’ toys if they didn’t ace piano practice, and demanded of them excellence in everything – from academic results to homemade birthday cards.

But tiger parenting isn’t just an Asian thing. Tigers, it turns out, come in all stripes.

There are ‘white tiger parents’ obsessed with sporting success. Their natural habitat: the sidelines of weekend sporting comps. Typical behaviours: screaming abuse at referees. Haranguing often hapless players. Hence the signs reminding parents “This is NOT the A-League or the World Cup.”

Then there’s the ‘tiger coach’. In recent weeks, Gymnastics Australia has been rocked by revelations of abusive treatment of young gymnasts. Overly controlling coaching styles have been criticised, as well as a punishing ‘win at all costs’ mentality. One coach channelled her inner tiger mum when she dismissed Commonwealth gold as nothing compared to the Olympics (“the top of the mountain”).

Tiger parents and coaches would argue that they’re preparing children for success in a demanding, competitive world. Their end, in other words, justifies the means.

But such an approach can have the opposite effect: killing a love of the game, shattering trust between child and adult, and causing kids to duck for cover.

Too much tough love can turn tiger parents into paper tigers: apparently dangerous, but ultimately ineffective.

I prefer the Ted Lasso approach where success is not just about winning, but about helping players “be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”

The coach that believes that knows that there are bigger games worth playing.