Kids, sports and pressure examined in HBO series ‘State of Play’

HBO's State of Play Trophy Kids
Photo: Courtesy HBO

SAN DIEGO, December 3, 2013 – Wednesday night’s debut episode of the new HBO documentary series “State of Play: Trophy Kids” (December 4, 9 p.m. ET/PT) is painful to watch. But it is important that no one turns away.

Filmmaker Peter Berg’s look at the interaction between four parents and their child athletes is almost too close for comfort. Parents push their kids to practice, to work, to listen, to work harder, to excel, to win. They exhibit reprehensible behavior, from exasperation to bullying to cursing to cruelty.

As tough as it is to watch, it should be required viewing for every adult involved in youth sports: parents, coaches, educators, and concerned family and friends.

Berg’s mission with this four part series is to examine the complex relationship of sports to our larger society by spotlighting a topic or a person affecting the sports world. Berg employs the same cinéma vérité style he used so well in the marvelous HBO documentary “On Freddie Roach” about the life and complex personality of the respected boxing trainer and operator of the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California.

Berg’s talent for letting the subjects of the documentary tell the story in their own words and actions lets the audience get remarkably close, at times uncomfortably so. It is hard to believe these parents would allow Berg the kind of intimate access to their lives we witness, since they often come across as monsters. Their language is uncensored, their rage when their kids don’t meet their expectations is on full view.

What eventually sinks in is that the parents don’t think they are doing anything wrong. On the contrary, they’re proud of pushing their kids to excel.

High school basketball player Derek expresses frustration with his overbearing father, Steve, in the HBO Sports documentary State of Play. Photo: Courtesy HBO

Three of the parents are fathers, depicting some of the worst sports parent stereotypes imaginable: the parent living his dream through his child; the screamer on full blast at every practice and game who never shuts up; the nonstop critic who never has a good word to say, explaining it this way: “When a parent is hard on their kid, they’re only teaching them to be tough.” Does this really apply to a junior girls’ golfer who is all of eight or nine years old?

The only mother in the episode whose twin boys play doubles tennis seems more reasonable. There’s no cursing, no rage, seemingly little pressure. But under the surface there’s an odd imperative and a cult-leader feel to her when she tells her boys their talent all comes from God and it their obligation to glorify Him. The boys in turn seem remarkably passive, especially compared to the drama of the other families in the documentary.

Berg says wants this series to make people talk. “The type of documentaries we show should be a catalyst for conversation. I hope to be provocative with this show, in terms of … we provoke people into having conversations. If we can continue to find issues like this, that would be great for me, I’d be very happy.”

In the epilogue, we learn what’s happened to these young athletes. We hear from one directly who finally expresses himself about his relationship with his father; we learn about the others who are still pursuing their goals, with varying degrees of success.

Each episode is followed by a roundtable discussion led by Berg. In the first episode, sports psychologist Dr. Larry Lauer and former college and NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich discuss the results, intended and unintended, of well-meaning parents who pressure their kids to succeed in sports. In Marinovich’s case, his early success quickly flamed out in substance abuse.  His observations need to be heard and heeded by parents viewing the episode.

“State of Play: Trophy Kids, debuts Wednesday, December 4, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. The episode repeats throughout the month on HBO, HBO2, and is also available on HBO On Demand and HBO GO. New episodes will air monthly.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

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