State of Play: Trophy Kids is the debut installment of HBO Sports’ new documentary film series hosted by Emmy nominee Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights). The series explores the complex and multi-layered themes in sports and their relationship to larger society. Berg and Sarah Aubrey team up as executive producers.
The documentary begins with Berg introducing the series format: a brief overview of each film followed by a 40-minute cinéma vérité documentary, concluding with a 20-minute roundtable discussion of the issues raised.
Trophy Kids explores the widespread pressure put on their athlete children The film focuses on four parents and five children competing in various sports: golfer Amari and her father Andre; high school basketball player Derek and his father Steve; tennis playing brothers Blake and Tanner and their mother Jamie, and high school football player Justus and his father Josh. Trophy Kids puts the spotlight on these parents and what they do to make sure their children succeed, no matter the cost. Steve has spent nearly every moment since 2000 grooming his son in the hopes he will win an athletic scholarship for college. The film follows Steve as he screams hysterically at his son during games, argues with referees and pushes his son to the limit. At one point, Derek becomes so frustrated with his father during a game, he tells him, “shut up or leave.” How Derek is able to concentrate on a game with his father’s voice constantly following him is beyond me.
Football player Justus is under even more pressure. His constantly critical dad, Josh, never lets up, no matter where they are, often leaving Justus unable to express himself fully, or in tears. Josh, in my opinion, is the worst of the parents documented (although Steve was a very close second) because he truly thought that his constant badgering, belittling, and verbal abuse would help to build his son’s confidence and prepare him for the real world. What Josh fails to realize is that his behavior is driving a wedge between himself and his son, while creating resentment for a game Justus loves.
After the film, Berg and guests former NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich, and sports psychologist Dr. Larry Lauer discuss the film in depth. Marinovich, who was raised by an extremely ambitious father, is able to relate to what the kids are going through and talks about the pressure his own father placed on him throughout his childhood. Dr. Lauer also explains the negative psychological impact competitive parents have on their children when they force their own hopes and dreams on them. In this day and age, it isn’t enough for kids to play a sport just for fun. They have to win and win big, whether they like it or not.
State of Play: Trophy Kids made my heart go out to all of the kids because their parents are clueless about what they had been doing to their children. All they seemed to care about was how they could get their kids to the next level. The constant training, anger, frustration and tears upset me because these kids had never been praised for what they were doing right. Instead, the kids are always reminded of faults and mistakes, receiving nothing but insults (except Jamie, who uses religion as her own form of pressure).
I hope parents take a good look at what Amari, Justus, Derek, Blake and Tanner have endured on a daily basis and hopefully see what they could be doing to their own children. Being the best is definitely something to strive for, but not if it means destroying your child’s self-esteem in the process.
State of Play and State of Play: Trophy Kids are currently airing on HBO, HBO2, HBO On Demand and HBO GO.
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