By now we have all heard of (and some folks have witnessed firsthand) the “crazy sports parent.” This prototype is defined by rude and belligerent yelling from the bleachers, poor sportsmanship, and sometimes even physical bullying and fighting. When sports parents engage in these kinds of behaviors, not only do their own children pay the price through shame and embarrassment, but just about everyone else has their sport experience compromised, too.
While leagues and schools differ some when it comes to appropriate sportsmanship and tolerance levels pertaining to obnoxious adults, there are still general guidelines all sports parents need to prioritize with every trip to the field, court, or pool. Sports parents who cheer, encourage, and show respect to their team, the opponent, and the officials working the game allow kids to have a great time and develop important life skills as a result of a healthy and safe sport environment. In order to achieve an optimal sport experience, there are a few universal “dont’s” to keep in mind as well, including the following.
Sports parents “dont’s” list:
- Force your child. “Forcing” means to make your child do something that he or she clearly does not want to do. Some sports parents force their child to play a particular sport, while others force their child to play in a hyper-competitive travel league even though it’s clear the child has no desire to commit to that level of play. While it’s perfectly OK to encourage, and even persuade, parents should draw the line at making their kid compete when the child is expressly stating that he or she does not want to play.
- “Coach the coach.” Arguably the biggest criticism I hear from youth sport coaches is when parents try to “coach” them by providing assistance toward how to play their child, or even how to effectively run the team. When you sign your child up to play youth sports it’s important to let go and allow the coach to do his or her very important job! This does not mean you can’t occasionally broker a quick conversation to talk about the team, but it does mean stopping short of always being in the coach’s ear at every turn.
- Display poor sportsmanship. It’s important that sports parents model positive sportsmanship at all times, including how they cheer from the stands, the respect shown to the other team and officials, and the support given to the coach even in times where the coach’s decisions come in to question. Maintain a high level of integrity, cheer don’t jeer, and regularly thank the folks who allow your child to have an awesome sport experience.
- Disregard emotional distress. Youth sports today are very different than even a generation ago, with more kids vulnerable to sports burnout stemming from an often hyper-intense sports schedule. Subsequently, more kids today experience various stages of burnout, which left unnoticed can lead to poor coping skills that include substance abuse, reckless behaviors, and even self-harm. It is important for parents today to pay attention to both physical aches and pains as well as emotional trauma experienced as a byproduct of playing youth sports.
- Focus only on sports. With only about 5% of all high school students talented enough to eventually play college sports, it behooves parents to refrain from putting all their eggs in one basket when it comes to sports. In fact, most talented athletes I have worked with in my career not only play multiple sports (rather than specializing), but also make time for social, academic, and community activities and experiences, allowing them to develop in very well-rounded ways.
Sports parenting can be an overwhelming task at times, and it’s certainly understandable that some parents experience challenges when trying to keep their emotions in check. Still, it is vitally important to think of how poor sportsmanship can quickly take an otherwise fun and meaningful experience for kids and turn it into something embarrassing, humiliating, and sometimes even dangerous. Kids can only maximize the sport experience when we, the adults, up our game and do whatever is necessary to provide a safe, fun, and meaningful life experience.