Director: Chris Bell
Trophy Kids is a documentary that takes a look at a few parents who drive their kids hard to be a success in various sports. The film focuses on two kids on a basketball team, a football player, two tennis twins, and a very young golfer.
I’d be interested in seeing what the parents thought after seeing this documentary because the lack of self-awareness displayed here is astounding. Let’s take all the segments in turn. So the basketball kids, the dads basically say that these kids are a vehicle for their own dreams and they’re always on the touchline, yelling out advice and abuse. One of the dads actually disappears from the film for a while because he gets banned from attending the matches. The other dad is frustrated that his son keeps getting benched and not utilized properly, so he actually leads a revolt against the coach and goes to the school board telling them that the coach is bullying the kids on the team and isn’t nurturing them! Then, he has the gall to say “It was like the holocaust, it’s like we just got rid of Hitler.” I mean, wow, just wow, and all the while he son was standing behind him, evidently uncomfortable and scared, which you can tell by the look on his face.
If you think that was bad then wait until the football player. Oh man, the dad is basically raising him as ‘a man’ after the kid’s mom raised him in ‘the feminine way’ from a baby up. Now the dad is pushing him hard and it’s painfully clear that this kid isn’t enjoying football and that his dad is trying to relive his own glories through his son. Perhaps the most awkward part of the film is when they’re in the car and the father lambasts the son for daring to have a girlfriend at 15, saying that it’s pointless because she’ll only break up with him, and then has a massive rant when the son dares to say that it makes him uncomfortable talking about it. Driven to tears, the film crew have to actually remove him from the situation and take him for pancakes while the father remains in the car, claiming that it’s all for his son’s own good and it’s all to build up his confidence.
The tennis twins are trained by their mother who says that she likes keeping fit and motivated by training them. She tries to claim that she’s only putting this much time in because it’s their dream but it seems that she’s fed them that line. She is also very religious and gets them to thank God for their achievements, and doesn’t really want to focus on winning so much as having fun (at least that’s what she said). Again though the kids didn’t really seem to be that excited when they were on the court, and I think it’s always churlish to thank God for things you’ve done yourself. But she certainly didn’t rule through fear like the other parents.
Which brings us to the golfer. Now, the other kids in the documentary are in their teens, I can’t remember her exact age but it was only ten or eleven at the most. Anyway, the father has all these books about raising a champion and basically wants his daughter to be like Tiger Woods, but he rules by fear an anger, coming down hard on every mistake she’s made. The camera follows her around the tournament while he’s caddying for her, and all the time in the background he’s cursing or getting angry, even at one point muttering “You stupid bitch” under his breath! And his philosophy is that he isn’t going to praise her or encourage her until they get to where they want to be. When she yells at him and tells him to stop, in tears, he bats away her complaints as if they mean nothing.
Again, the lack of self-awareness is just ridiculous and it makes this documentary difficult to watch at times, because you really feel for these kids. Most of these parents rule by fear and and they fail to see that their kids are never going to succeed if they drive the love of the sport away from them. I think there’s more going on with the case of the basketball coach, although the documentary does interview him and he comes across as level-headed and reasonable, with great concern for the kids. The film spends less time with the tennis twins than it does with the other kids and I don’t know if this was just because the mother wasn’t as interesting or there was just less drama surrounding them. I would have liked more interviews with the kids as well and actually ask them, you know, if they actually enjoyed taking part in sports. I also would love a follow-up documentary to this in like five or ten years to see what happened to the kids and if any of them actually continued through to make a career out of their sport.
Overall it’s a tough documentary to watch but it shows the dark side of parenting, when the needs of the parents take over from allowing the child to flourish. I felt genuinely sorry for pretty much all of these kids as it didn’t feel like they were allowed to have a life of their own, and a lot of what is depicted in the film is basically abuse.