Unfortunately, we’ve all seen it, the overbearing parent that gets a little crazed at their kid's sporting event.
Whenever you see a mom or dad yelling at a referee, chastising their kid for missing a ground ball or repeatedly nagging the coach about game strategies, it makes you feel bad for the child and forces you to think -- if the parent is being this tough on their kid in public, how much tougher are they in private?
Of course, most sports parents choose to conduct themselves properly at sporting events and they just want their children to participate in sports for the fun, exercise and camaraderie.
But even well-intentioned parents, who try hard not to be overly competitive, sometimes fall into the trap of wanting success and victory so badly they lose their cool and let their emotions take over.
So if you're a sports parent or you're going to be one soon, what are the key things you should remember and take with you at the start of every sports season and at the beginning of every game and practice?
According to Craig Sigl, an expert on youth sports and parenting, before signing a child up for a particular sport, two things need to be done: One, a detailed discussion needs to take place between you and your child about what signing up for a sport will entail.
Sigl, who created a series of sports videos under his company the Mental Toughness Academy, says it’s imperative that your child knows things like how much of their personal time will be occupied by joining a league, how they may have to practice or play when they might not feel like it and also how they’ll have to do certain things to help mom and dad like pack their gym bag, keep track of their equipment and make sure they stay aware of when games and practices are.
Two, Sigl tells parents to make sure the desire for a child to play a sport comes from them, and although you may suggest or give an ever-so-slight nudge to your child, they should show some sort of motivation to continue playing.
He also says that parents should use each disappointment in a game or practice as a teachable moment and should try to use a story from their own childhood to show their child how to deal with a letdown.
Experts also say that parents should be careful not to treat their child differently after a win or loss. For example, if you and your child stopped for ice cream after the team won or when your child did well, you should also stop for ice cream if he or she made a bunch of mistakes and the team lost.
Also, parents should be cognizant of just how much they’re talking about sports with their child, in terms of their performance, how the team did, what the coach said or what the referee called.
If a child senses a disproportionate amount of conversation about sports compared to the other areas of their life, he or she may believe that your engagement with them hinges on their involvement with sports, say experts.
Moms and dads should also recognize that although they make most of the decisions for their children in everyday life, sports is an area where parents should allow kids to make some key decisions for themselves, in terms of their involvement and continued interest with a sport.
And although the relationship between coach and player should be honored by the parent and they should never run to the sidelines to give their input or to coach their child, Sigl says moms and dads should make sure their child knows that their coaches are human and will not always say or advise the right thing.
“There’s some great coaches out there and a lot of times there are coaches that mean well, but don’t have a clue on how to help kids deal with the emotional side of their sports participation,” said Sigl in a video about being a good sports parent.
“Most of us encourage our kids to play sports to learn focus, confidence, how to be a team player, how to overcome adversity, develop that never give up attitude, the list goes on and on. But sometimes in your child’s playing career they will encounter a coach who says or does something that could have a tremendous impact on your kid good or bad.”
“Unfortunately a lot of young athletes think their coaches are gods and what they say is always the truth. This can be really damage if the feedback is negative,” says Sigl.
Keep it in perspective
Experts also say parents make a common mistake of giving instruction immediately after a game, whether it’s a win or a loss, in hopes that they can provide their child with a quick lesson.
However, this eager approach takes the ability away from your child to learn how to process certain emotions and properly deal with a win or loss on their own. After being able to process those emotions by themselves, parents can then add their thoughts and advice, say experts.
Parents should also remember that to some kids, how they perform in a game shapes how they feel about themselves, so it’s imperative that parents always provide the right amount of perspective to let a child know that their self-worth has nothing to do with their sports performance, says Sigl.
“Sports parents need to understand that a lot of young athletes get their validation as a worthwhile person from performing well and they base their personal value on whether they win or lose."
"This can be devastating when they lose, if they don’t learn early on that this is not true. What you need to do as parents is to always refer them back to the reasons they started playing in the beginning.”
And most important, says Sigl, is that children shouldn’t only show a steady level of motivation to play a sport, they should be way more motivated than you.