Is This Normal? Sports Parents

Written by: Ann O'Neill

  • Do you direct players from your son or daughter’s team on where to go and what to do, but you’re not the coach?
  • Has your son or daughter ever asked you to be quiet during one of his/her games?
  • Do you yell at the referee for bad calls even though he/she is a teenager?
  • Do you get angry or frustrated if your child has a bad game or a poor performance?

Sports are a great way to cultivate hard work, sportsmanship, resilience, and the love of play for kids. Most kids love being active with their friends. One thing that spoils this love quicker that you can say, “Nice call, Ref!” is to become more involved in your kids’ sports than they are.

That being said, it’s very healthy to be involved with your kids’ teams. Your involvement provides a connection between you and your kids, shows your kids that you support their efforts, and builds community. However, sports parents take this connection too far and use their children’s success in sports to validate their own egos. They don’t separate themselves from their children. These are unhealthy boundaries that have devastating effects on sports parents, their children, and even on the sports parent’s marriage.

Many sports parents frame their neediness in insisting that their kids have real talent and have a chance at going professional or at receiving an athletic scholarship. This might be true. Their children may have real talent, but the odds aren’t with them. The odds for becoming a professional athlete vary from sport to sport but can range from .03% to .4% for high school seniors. The odds of receiving an athletic scholarship from a NCAA university are about 1 in 50. Odds are against most sports parents’ expectations.

Instead of cultivating your kids’ athletic ability, it’s healthier to cultivate a solid relationship with your kids. What are they doing outside of sports and who are their friends? What can you do together that will get you both really laughing? What are they afraid of? What have they always wanted to try?

Here are some guidelines on appropriate sideline behavior for parents.

  • If you aren’t the coach, don’t coach. Period.
  • Offer encouragement to all players.
  • Referees are going to make calls that are unfair, awful, and that may decide a game’s outcome. Yelling at them won’t change anything. It only gives you a momentary emotional release and an ego rush. Don’t yell at referees. Move on.
  • If sports parents are coaching your kid when they aren’t the coach, it’s absolutely appropriate to ask them to please stop.
  • Model good sportsmanship and good competition when you play with your kids.
  • Don’t complain about the field, the other players on the team, the other team, the conditions, or the coach.
  • If you’re more excited at your kids’ performances than they are, it’s a signal to check your boundaries.

It’s normal to want your kids to do well in whatever they try, including sports. It’s good health to use sports as only one avenue of connection in your relationship with them.

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