Papa Merciless, Tennis Parenting Gone Wrong


There are probably worse examples of sports parenting then tennis great Steffi Graff’s father, Peter, but there might not be many. He died the other day of pancreatic cancer after a tumultuous relationship with his wife but mostly his daughter. His second marriage was to her babysitter.

According to the New York Times obituary written by Douglas Martin, he mismanaged her career, her money and their relationship to say nothing of her image thanks to his public fistfights with fans and officials.

His dominance began early. Within a few hours of her birth he announced that she would be a champion and he gave her a sawed-off racket before she was four years old. He offered her ice cream if she could keep a rally going for 25 shots but as she approached the goal; he would slam the ball at her “because you can’t eat ice cream all the time.”

German taxes are notoriously high, especially in the top brackets. Some successful German athletes decamp to tax-friendly locales like Monaco, but Steffi was much loved in Germany and her departure would have been a public relations nightmare. He solved the problem by not filing income tax returns for the ensuing three years, but she did not take the public relations hit. He went to prison for that one.

What is to be done about bad sports parenting and how should it be done?