We have all seen “that other parent” who is way too serious and demanding about his/her child’s sport participation. We ridicule “that parent” for being too hard on the child, or worse yet, yelling at other players on the team. We know “that parent” prevents the real purpose for youth sport to emerge, to promote fitness, life skills, and physical skill development. However, sometimes we forget when talking about the other parent to examine our own parental roles in sports. As a parent, it is critical to promote positive sport opportunities for your children that can help them to mature and develop. There are several key components to fulfilling your job as a good sport parent in being a catalyst for propelling youth into opportunities that they can learn to enjoy for the rest of their lives. These simple steps can help you evaluate yourself.
Help your child understand the true meaning of competition. Competition involves developing a passion for the game and being challenged to become the best athlete possible by an opponent who wants to do the same. This means helping your child understand that it is important to work on their personal improvement and developing a love for the game. Your own behavior can demonstrate this appreciation for good competiton: cheer for all athletes when they demonstrate excellence, socialize with opponents’ parents, enjoy the sport, and show your child that it is okay to cheer for great plays, not just for the winning team.
Be there, no matter what. You are your child’s source of unconditional support no matter what the performance. When things go well, you can cheer and when things fall apart, you can be supportive. And while you do want to leave the coaching duties to the coach, it may also be appropriate to provide constructive criticism regarding your child’s behavior. When this criticism is needed, remember to employ the “feedback sandwich”—a piece of praise, then the constructive criticism, and finally encouragement. Remember your job is to be a supporter and a fan of both your child and the team.
Keep the experience fun. Fun can take many forms, including learning new skills in a fun way, engaging in cooperative games to learn tactics and skills, developing friendships and playing the game. When choosing a league, choose one that has a focus on player development and enjoyment. And keep in mind the big picture. While your child might be a good player, she will not participate in sport forever. You must keep in mind what your overall goal for sport participation: for example, to help develop your child into a well-rounded adult.
Respect the game and spirit of the rules. Avoid negative comments, respect all those involved in the game, and do not disputeperceived bad calls. All these aspects will model to athletes the importance of respecting the game.
Imagine with us for a moment, a youth sport environment that is encouraging and beneficial for all those involved. Youth are able to have fun and develop in a productive competitive environment. Youth sports are so essential in combating childhood obesity and improving children’s motor development. Children should never be deterred from these opportunities by aggressive or intimidating parental figures. So the next time you’re at your child’s sporting event, keep these considerations in mind to avoid being “that parent.”
Beau Cassada and Taylor Boyers are Health and Physical Education majors at Bridgewater College. This article was part of their coursework in Professor Lori Gano-Overway’s “Psychological Principles in Sport and Physical Education” course.