The Role of the Sport Parent
As parents, your job is to love your kids and try to provide the best for them. When
it comes to youth sports, however, too many parents seem to lose all notion of what
is best for their kids. It is a telling sign that virtually every youth sports league in the
country has enacted some measure to curb violence and negative behavior by
parents. Some leagues have even gone so far as to not let parents utter a single
word during the game, calling it Silent Saturdays.
As enticing as it may seem to some league administrators, taking the parents out of
youth sports is not the best solution to the problem. Parents have an important role
to play, and the role that the parent does play can impact a child’s interest and
enthusiasm for sport for years to come. Studies have shown a positive relationship
between parents who are involved with their child’s sporting activities and the child’s
enjoyment of the activity, participation in physical activities and continued
participation in youth sports (1). That is to say the right type of parental
involvement can help a child to have a positive youth sports experience that
motivates him or her to want to continue playing sports.
Sean Cumming and Martha Ewing of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports say
the role of the parents in youth sports is to provide support for your child, both
emotionally and financially, without becoming over-involved to the point of being
fanatical (1). Providing the proper emotional support can be difficult in an adult
society that emphasizes winning, or the product of the performance, and social
comparisons. It is important to step back and remember that children are not mini-
adults and we cannot have the same expectations for our child that we would have
for a professional athlete. To provide proper emotional support for your child may
mean changing your view of sports and of success and aligning it more with how
children view things. Children play sports for the fun and enjoyment of it all.
Winning is not high on the priority list of reasons children play sports. In fact, one
thing children say they wish they could change about sports is putting less emphasis
on winning (2).
Your kids don’t need you to yell at the ref, harass the coach about playing time, or
yell out instructions to them while they are on the playing field. This will give them a
negative opinion of you, teach them to treat adults with disrespect, and possibly
embarrass them. What they do need from you is your love and support. You can
give this by providing them with positive feedback about their performance and lots
of encouragement. It is important that you do this in a way that is sincere and does
not employ social comparisons. Kids, especially past the age of eight or nine, can tell
when your “positive” comments are just made up to help them feel better about a
bad performance. Turn the focus to their effort and personal improvement (3). It is
so critical for the development of confidence and self-efficacy that you focus not on
the final outcome, but on the improvements your child made or the things your child
did well. Did they play exceptionally hard during the game? Did they complete a skill
or a play that has previously given them difficulty? Redefine success as something
that is process oriented, not product oriented. Michael Clark of the Institute for the
Study of Youth Sports says that, “By placing the emphasis on the athletes and their
effort, winning is redefined in such a way that it comes within the reach of all” (2).
And all any parent really wants is for their child to succeed and be a winner. With this
new definition of success, what have you got to lose?
Here are some pointers to help parents re-focus on helping their children have a
wonderful youth sports experience.
Relax and don’t take yourself so seriously.
Remember, it’s just a game!
Challenge yourself to redefine what success means. Success can mean being
ahead in the score column at the end of the game, but success can also mean
improving on skills or playing an outstanding game. Look for the little
successes your child makes in the game and focus on them more than on the
final score. This will help your child to develop a sense of accomplishment and
Don’t compare your little Johnny to little Bobby who lives next door. Each
child is equally wonderful in his own unique and special way. Focus on the
wonderful qualities in your own child.
Remember that children all grow and develop at different rates. Two children
who have the same birth date could be years apart developmentally. When it
comes to sports, use your child’s own developmental status to gauge what
experiences they are ready for.
At any time should the two words “scholarship” or “professional” pop into
your head and your child is younger than high school-aged, immediately
replace those words with the words “fun” and “learning.” Then repeat “fun”
and “learning” as many times as it takes to get those unrealistic thoughts out
of your head. And they are unrealistic. Cumming (1) reported that a mere
“one half of one percent of all high school athletes” will make it far enough to
call themselves a professional athlete.
Focus on creating a love of sports and physical activity at a young age. This
can go a long way to helping your child attain and maintain a healthy active
lifestyle as an adult, which is something many of us lack in this country.
(1) Cumming, S. P. & Ewing, M. E. (2002 Spring). Parental involvement in youth sports: The good, the bad and the ugly! Spotlight on Youth Sports, 26(1), 1-5.
(2) Clark, M. A. (n.d.). Winning! How important is it in youth sports? Retrieved November 11, 2004 from http://www.coachjerry.com/winning.htm
(3) Kanters, M., Estes, C. A. (2002). Parents and youth sports. Parks & Recreation, 37(12), 20-27. Retrieved August 5, 2003 from Academic Search Premier database.
Check out these other articles from The Educated Sports Parent for parents
Parents: How's Your Behavior?
The Importance of Parental Involvement in Youth Sports
When Dad (or Mom) is the Coach
Further Information on Other Sites
Questions Parents Should Ask - from Kids Sports Network
National Summit on Raising Community Standards in Children’s Sports - by National
Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS)