For Parents
Parents: keep your cool as summer sports heat up

Parents: keep your cool as summer sports heat up


By Linda Alberts 

In many ways, youth sports today are a stark contrast to the sports experienced by kids of previous generations.

Today, we have all-star teams, playoff scenarios for children as young as six years old and alarming overuse injury rates.

However, as the voices of proponents for fun, safe, age-appropriate sports get louder and louder, resulting in marked improvements in many programs, hurdles remain.

Namely, the misbehavior of parents in the stands. Of course, not all parents – but enough that real life footage of unruly parent behavior can easily be found on YouTube, like these horrific examples you can see HERE.


Dr. John Macri says that children today are playing sports with greater frequency and intensity and that this puts a great deal of pressure on them, and parents may lose track of their priorities.

“I have seen outbursts resulting from parents losing focus on the process of skill development and replacing it with results on wins and losses,” says Macri, owner of New Jersey Clinical and Sport Psychology in Ridgewood. “It’s vital that parents keep a balanced perspective that shapes the child’s experience into a positive one.”

Macri points out that every parent wants to see their child perform well. After all, it can be difficult to see your child lose a game.

So what’s the reason for the parental outbursts along the sidelines?

“If we take into account the amount of time and money parents invest in leagues, travel and lessons for their child it leads to greater insight into the emotional investment parents have in their child’s sport,” Macri says.

According to research by Dr. Travis Dorsch at the Utah State University Family Sports Lab, parents are spending up to 10.5 percent of their gross income on their child’s sports.  

Earlier this year Dorsch told the New York Times, in regard to his research that, “Without being judgy, I’m fine with families spending that kind of money. What’s wrong is when that investment brings out some sort of negative parent behavior.”


Recent research indicates that approximately 50 percent of parents feel anger when their child does not perform well, reports Macri. This anger leads to emotional distress and outbursts from the parent.

“When parents become emotionally distraught over sports it is usually the result of perfectionistic expectations,” says Macri. “Sometimes these high expectations may be the result of a parent who is a classic overachiever. It is difficult for them to tolerate poor performance because they expect their child to achieve as they have achieved.”

Macri adds, “There also may be some realism to a parent or family counting on a scholarship for their high school youth. In such a high-stakes scenario emotional distress may be the outcome. A parent’s behavior has a significant impact on the development of their child, in and out of sports. If there are negative emotions and behaviors toward a child, it may lead to anxiety, anger and burnout.”

These negative emotions may be permanently associated with the sport. “One strong negative event or a series of small, consistent negative events is all that is needed to impair a child’s performance and development,” he says. “Overly critical feedback may also lead a child to walk away from a sport for good.”


Macri offers these tips to help sports parents change their perspective on youth sports and control their words and actions when their emotions are getting the best of them.

Focus on the whole child

While sport is an area of performance in life, it is only one part of a child’s life. Keep your perspective on your child’s whole development.

Keep your feedback positive

Avoid negative words such as, “Don’t drop it!” when communicating a change you would like them to make in their performance. Instead, use the alternative, “Hold the ball firmly.”

See sports from a youth perspective

Children play sports because it is fun. Many times parents forget to see it from their child’s perspective.  If your child is enjoying the activity they have selected, they will continue to play and benefit from their participation. Early sport participation should emphasize sportsmanship, communication, teamwork and mastery of skills. 

Remember that you are a role model

All of your behavior – verbal and nonverbal – has an effect on your child. Make certain that your words and gestures are consistent. It is also vital that both parents are consistent in their message. If one parent is getting worked up, have the other parent cue them to keep their words or actions in check.

Parenting Behavior Pressure Perspective Feedback Role model

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