It's pretty easy to identify "bad" sports parents—especially when it's other people acting out negatively in public. Whether yelling at their own kids or players on the other team, coaching from the sidelines, screaming at game officials, these parents create embarrassment to themselves and discomfort to those around them.
But it’s fair to ask ourselves: do we, as parents, recognize our own poor behavior?
One of the more difficult challenges for parents when their children are involved in youth sports is modeling appropriate behaviour –whether it is at a recreational or a more “competitive” level.
Sports parents have often read about the “success” and “failure” rates of elite athletes; they also know that, in reality, only a fraction of the millions of kids involved in youth sports “make” it to the professional ranks. Even earning a college scholarship is exceedingly difficult, as many young athletes seek a scholarship and relatively few earn one.
While most parents may say that it‘s not their dream, some still end up taking the entire sport experience far too seriously and cause damage to relationships within—and beyond—the family. Parents sometimes need to really self-reflect and look in the mirror and ask themselves: "Am I a good—or bad—sports parent?"
All kinds of factors come into play—unreasonable expectations, envy, comparing our kids with other people’s kids, along with that natural human inclination to “compete”, including through our own children. It’s human nature, it seems, to be competitive, but what can be done to control or eliminate certain negative behaviors?
Here are five behaviours that are counter-productive but because of the often-intense emotion involved in youth sports are often displayed—and some small steps "sports parents" can take to try to act more appropriately:
Parents Can and Should Behave Themselves at Kids' Sports Matches
It’s important to team cohesiveness for parents to think about their own behavior during game time. It’s not okay to yell at a child (your own, or anyone else’s) if or because they make “mistakes”. Nor is it acceptable to cause a problem in any fashion with team officials or referees.
If a parent has trouble controlling their temper or mouth, he/she needs to work to address it because in short, it’s a problem—especially for the children.
Also, don’t get involved with negative behavior on the part of other parents—avoid temptation to join in on the toxic chatter that can escalate about the team’s coach, for example. Parents should make it a practice to say positive things only—or say nothing at all.
As parents, and the adults, it is important not to discuss other children. It’s not up to parents who makes a certain team, or how they play, or if those parents think certain players are talented or selfish. That’s for coaches to deal with. To speak negatively of other people’s kids opens up all kinds of potential issues.
Follow the 24-Hour Rule
Every mom and dad should remind himself or herself of the 24-hour rule. That is, if a parent is upset – with his or her own child, or with a coach, wait for a day to pass and then make the appropriate effort to discuss the situation. Everyone will be calmer, and the issue may not seem so serious after all. Right after a game or practice, when emotions can be high, is usually not the right time to approach a coach.
If you feel you must address the situation with a coach, contact them later and arrange to time to meet privately and calmly to discuss your concerns.
Keep Sports Fun
On the car ride home, it’s just not acceptable for parents to spend time criticizing their young athletes. Don’t take away the fun that is essential to being involved in youth sports. This one should be easy, but for many it’s not.
Sometimes parents begin to ask questions or comment on what their child didn’t do well or correctly— the moment the child gets in the car. This isn’t constructive and it just makes the entire experience stressful and unpleasant. What’s the point of being involved in youth sports if the child is made to feel bad?
Playing a sport is supposed to be a fun and healthy activity. Constant criticism doesn’t help anyone, most importantly your own youngster.
Give Children Space to Develop Their Sporting Skills
Parents sometimes have a tendency to stay and watch at practice and this can be a great time to get to know other parents and build positive team chemistry. But if a parent just stands to the side at training and appears grim and judgmental, or says things during practice that are not supportive it might be an good idea to go home, relax and pick your youngster up after training is done for the day. Let the children enjoy the practice and the camaraderie of their teammates, without seeing a judgmental, sour-looking parent nearby
Being a Good Sports Parent
There is much more to being a good “sports parent” than the above of course. It is essential for parents to be good listeners, to be there when things don’t go well, to be able to wipe away the occasional tear, and to generally help make the experience a great one for their kids.
However, if parents don’t always do the right things, they should at least work hard to eliminate negative behaviours that make the experiences less than what they should be for their children.
So first, parents need to become aware of the basics of their own behavior. They shouldn’t be negative about anyone – other players, coaches, officials or fellow parents; they should follow the 24-hour rule; remember not to criticize their young athlete, and to give their child the space they need to learn the sport and enjoy their teammates.
Those things alone can make the experience much better for our kids.