A former U-M tennis player himself, Saferstein appreciates the way sports can help young people stand out in the crowd and feel better about themselves. But as a psychologist who specializes in helping student athletes, their families, and the occasional worried coach, he also sees the downside of too much parental pressure. "A lot of kids come because fear [of not being the best] is interfering with their love for the game."
When family pressure is in the picture, Saferstein usually meets first with the child, then with the parents, and, finally, everyone together. Things can get sticky, he says, but "my job is to help them gain perspective." Even the "worst sports parents, they love their kids," he explains. "They just want them to do better."
He stresses that there's nothing wrong with parents being competitive--as long as they can learn to focus that drive on something besides their child.
"A kid has his own destiny," he says. "You can get all the best trainers--it's not necessarily going to produce the best champion."