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Misbehaving Youth Sports Parents Too Common

If you think that too many parents are misbehaving at their child's games, you are right.

A recent survey found that:

  • About one in seven parents admitted to having angrily criticized their child's sports performance
  • Such parental misbehavior prompted more than one in five children surveyed to say they preferred that their parents stay at home rather than watch them compete.
  • About one in seven parents also admitted to having yelled at a ref or sport official. The survey supports the view that the reports of misbehaving parents in the media are not isolated events.

Clearly, some parents are taking children's games far too seriously. The games are for our children, yet time and time again, we are witness to parents losing control. What lessons are our children learning when they see mothers and fathers yelling insults at referees, hands clenched, faces red with anger? What does a young player learn when an out of-control-father rushes on to a field and, in full view of scores of horrified spectators, assaults a player from an opposing team? Children can't be expected to develop healthy attitudes towards competition in such an environment.

Setting the right example

As parents, we need to set an example for our children to follow. We need to keep our cool and keep youth sporting events in perspective. Parents cannot exhibit poor sportsmanship and then turn around and expect their children to be good sports, to lose our cool and expect them not to lose theirs, to harass refs and not expect them to do the same.

At some point in your child's sports career you will find yourself in an uneasy situation where he may be on the same team with a child whose parents who are not setting a good example. This is a very uncomfortable situation and even more so if your child is aware of it.

There are a couple of things that you can try to do to ensure a comfortable season:

  • Confront the offender. Some psychologists suggest confronting the parent. This seems to work well for many dads. Moms wishing to be part of a community, especially a harmonious community, will many times turn their backs on people they don't care for. This "solution" can make for a very long season.

  • Express disapproval. Sometimes parents can stem the decline of civility on the sideline and get another parent to behave simply by giving that parent a look of consternation or disapproval, or an icy stare. 

  • Try to defuse the situation. Each time that I found myself in this situation, I tried to find a way to clear the air. Instead of confronting the person, I would try to bring the entire team of parents together by bringing each a cup of freshly brewed coffee or bottle of soda. I can still remember the look in their eyes as I handed them a drink with a smile. It was almost like passing a peace pipe.

  • Lend an ear.  Another way to deal with a difficult parent is to see if you can calmly engage them in a conversation to find out why they are so upset. The next time another parent in the stands or on the sidelines is exhibiting poor sportsmanship:

    • Listen. Listen to what they are saying. Watch their facial expressions and body language, at whom they are pointing. Perhaps the parent is yelling out of frustration and really just wants someone to sympathize with his situation, whether it is a lack of playing time for his son, the incompetence of the coach, or a referee who either doesn't know the rules or is too tired to properly referee the game

    • Empathize. Approach the person and ask in a calm and sympathetic way what the problem is. Try to make sure the individual knows that you understand what he is saying or feeling. Volunteer to talk to the coach with him or the referee after the game in private if they will agree to calm down in the meantime.


Adapted from the book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006) by Brooke de Lench.


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