With the start of school, many of our kids will be participating in youth sports. And we’ve all been at games where a parent in the stand berates or verbally abuses the coach. Or they yell at the referee for a perceived bad call. Perhaps some of us have found ourselves yelling at the coach or a referee. Please, please do not be that parent!
According to a 2017 survey of 1,700 coaches and referees of amateur athletics, sportsmanship at games is getting worse and parents are the biggest problem (reported in the Wall Street Journal, 2019). They also said that parental behavior is much worse in youth sports than at the high school or college level.
Why do parents behave like that? We all want our children to do well. But sometimes we identify too much with our children. We perceive their successes and failures as reflecting on us, threatening our own identity and success. So we want to blame the problem on someone else: the referee for bad calls, the coach for bad coaching or unfairness to our child. But our children are not us; their successes and failures belong to them.
Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t identify at all with our children. But we can get too wrapped up in outcomes: “I’m not happy if my son doesn’t play quarterback,” or, “I’m upset if my daughter isn’t a starter on the soccer team,” or, “I’m disappointed if my kid doesn’t score.” Instead of focusing on outcomes, we should simply enjoy the thrill of watching our children do something they enjoy.
And what does it mean to your child if you’re yelling at or criticizing a coach or referee? First off, it frequently embarrasses your child. Secondly, it sends a message to kids that they can’t deal with their own problems, or successfully navigate situations on their own. And third, it sends a message to your child that bad behavior and rudeness are okay. None of these are messages we should want our kids to receive.
So what can you do if you really think your child is being treated unfairly or not receiving enough coaching attention from the coach?
First off, wait for an opportunity to talk to the coach privately. Call them or talk to them before or after a practice. Don’t do it immediately after the game. Give yourself a chance to calm down and be objective before you say anything. Present your concerns in a polite and positive way. And listen to what the coach has to say. You may not be seeing the whole picture.
You can also ask your spouse or a fellow team parent to be your calm-down coach. Ask them to tell you if you’re getting out of hand and need to go to the concession stand or the parking lot to cool down.
We should all focus on watching our kids have fun. Be there, encourage your child, but don’t embarrass them by acting badly. Our job as parent fans is to find a seat, sit down, cheer them on, but otherwise, shut up. Anything else will detract from giving your child a good experience. It’s enough that you’re there for them so just sit back and enjoy watching your kid play the game.
A graduate of Stanford University, Mary Waldmann and her husband Raymond raised three children who are now independent, well-adjusted and happy young adults. Before becoming a mother, she was a successful real estate broker, political consultant and public relations executive, and worked as a part-time communications consultant when her children were young. Mary is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media , Six-Word Lessons for Intentional Parenting, and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.
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