For Parents
Parental control: Youth sports are not about you

Parental control: Youth sports are not about you


By Linda Alberts 

If you have been to a youth sports event you’ve likely heard a parent in the stands yelling at the coach or questioning an official’s call. You have probably even heard the grumbling among parents about the coach’s line up when their child isn’t starting.

Too often parent behavior results in full-on melees. Earlier this year three men were arrested in Storm Lake, Iowa on charges of disorderly conduct after getting into a fight at a girls youth basketball game.

When is the win or loss of a kids’ game ever so important it’s worth going to jail over?

The truth is there are thousands of stories similar to this one reported by newspapers and news stations across the country.

“The competition of youth sports is becoming more intense,” says Dr. Mathew Park, assistant professor of sport psychology at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, Calif. “Parents are becoming more like fans of professional sports teams than parents.”

Park points to behaviors you would see at professional sports arenas like calling out bad calls and booing the opposing team – now commonplace at youth sports events.

“Parents forget that youth sports are for kids,” he says.


Parents are likely looking to satisfy their own needs through their child’s sports experience. And if something or someone gets in their way, they become upset.

Maybe they blame the coach for not playing their child during a crucial moment of the game when they think their child could have shone.

Maybe the parent blames the official because they think the official’s calls are unfair or will prevent their child from reaching greatness.

Or, just maybe, they blame their own child.

Parents sacrifice their money and time to let their child play a sport. If you look at a child on a travel team, parents sacrifice even more money and even more time. But, to an extent, aren’t parents supposed to make sacrifices to benefit their children, with no strings attached?

“When parents start to think about their sacrifice as investment they wait for their rewards and payback. A lot of parents think this way to fulfill their own dreams instead of developing their child’s,” says Park. “If the kid doesn’t produce, they get upset.”

Since the parent has made the youth sports experience about themselves and have ignored their child’s needs, they take the actions of the coach or official as personal jabs.

“The more you focus on any kind of thought, the more you feed it and the more it grows,” Park says.

Parents harbor these negative thoughts until they lash out. A common victim is officials, and parents’ actions toward officials can have serious consequences for youth sports.

According to a survey by the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), 76% of the survey respondents report poor sportsmanship by parents as the single biggest reason officials quit.

“If you don’t have officials,” says Park, “you are missing an integral part of the youth sports structure.”

Also alarming is that today’s youth sports parents are shaping the next generation that will take their places in the stands and along the sidelines. Children emulate their parents’ behavior, so parents need to be positive role models of how to interact with officials, as well as coaches, players and other spectators.

Parents need to take an honest look at themselves in the mirror, advises Park.

“Ask yourself if your child’s needs are being met,” he says. “Get feedback on your behavior from people you trust, like family and friends and take ownership of your actions.”

Reflection will lead to increased awareness of actions and thoughts.

“Children learn through the behavior their parents model better than taking instruction on how to act,” Park says.

So practice the kind of behavior you would want your child to display. He suggests setting a positive atmosphere by showing appreciation for officials and coaches, encouraging other children on the team beside your own child and congratulating others on good plays and wins.

“Intuitively, your child will learn how to behave and practice good sportsmanship,” he says.

He also says there are relaxation techniques athletes use that can be applied to a parent’s role of spectator at a youth sports event.

Breathing exercises have long been held as a proven way to reclaim one’s emotional state. Next time you feel your pulse quicken as you move into a negative state at a youth sports event Park suggests you try circle breathing. Breathe in through your nose for four counts, hold it for two counts, then slowly exhale through your mouth for six counts. That is one cycle. Repeat this breathing exercise for two to five cycles. Then, say a positive affirmation to yourself, such as, “This is about my child’s experience.”  

Don’t let the next news headline be about you when youth sports goes awry in your community. Take the time now to make sure you are focused on meeting your child’s needs over your own, and spread some positivity – thank your child’s coach and the game official for their efforts next time you see them.

Parenting Behavior Competition Officials Positive Role Models Appreciation Relaxation

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