It is not uncommon for sport parents sitting in the stands to feel every emotion under the sun while watching their child compete. It’s also understandable to “coach” from the stands, feel pride when good things happen, and experience frustration and sadness when things don’t go so well. But what should never be acceptable, however, is shaming or embarrassing kids who make mistakes or fail to live up to parental expectations.
Vicariously living through your kid
We have all heard about, or even witnessed firsthand, parents who live out their own unfinished sports business through their child. In these examples the parent hopes to accomplish through their son or daughter a level of sport proficiency and success that they never experienced. Often the parent’s wishes for the child’s future development come from a good place in that they simply want their child to play to his or her best ability. The challenge in accomplishing this, however, is that the parent must learn to handle his or her own frustrations and stress when the child fails to play well. Sadly, when parents are unable to keep emotions in check, kids are often the recipients of various comments, criticisms, and sometimes even threats to commit to playing at a higher level in the future.
In the ideal situation parents support, encourage, and unconditionally accept their child’s level of sport success. Positive parenting also means not comparing your child’s sport abilities to yours, or pushing your child to exceed the level of success you had as a child.
The results of negative parenting
When parents push too hard to the point of embarrassing their child through words and/or behaviors from the stands, many psychological issues can arise. Kids who feel as though they can never please their parents are more likely to prematurely quit the sport, self-sabotage in order to be removed from the team, or deal with much bigger issues like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or even self-harm. In fact, in worst-case scenarios parents become so tough on their kid that they become oblivious to the signs of stress their child is showing, often resulting in even more pressure to succeed.
Tips for positive parenting
- Commit to being a positive parent and never allow yourself to embarrass your child because of mistakes made on the field.
- Remember, studies regularly show the #1 reason why kids play sports is to have fun — ask yourself, have you created a sport environment that is fun for your child?
- If you feel you are pushing too hard, your intuition is likely telling you something.
- When offering instruction to your child, try the sandwich approach by starting with a compliment and positive reinforcement, offering constructive feedback/teaching, then ending with more positive reinforcement.
- Seek help if needed. Sport psychologists can play an important role in both helping parents temper expectations, as well as providing stress relief for kids who struggle with pleasing their parents.
Youth sports are about growth, development, and connecting with others through sport participation. When kids are afforded healthy sport environments they not only have fun, but also learn important life skills that can be applied to school and future careers. Do your part as a sport parent to promote fun and development, while simultaneously refraining from disruptions that could steal from an optimal youth sport experience.