Living Vicariously

Parent behavior in youth sport – nightmare vs. reality

Media coverage in recent years would make us think that violence and aggression among parents in youth sports is the norm, not the extreme. A simple google search for violence in youth sports will return hundreds of stories detailing such incidents. Certainly, such violent behavior among parents and family members is out of line and not the normal baseline for spectator behavior.

But what does parent behavior and comments actually look like? Athletic Insight, online sport psychology journal, has published a new study detailing the actual content of parent comments during youth athletic events. Their research, reviewing over 2,000 comments by over 100 parents, showed that 52% of observed comments were positive, while 32% were negative and 16% were neutral. Comments which were viewed as negative were those which were scolding, sarcastic, and instructional/correcting in nature.Some examples of these comments include “let’s see some hustle out there,” “Suck it up,” or “throw it to first”.

The study gives us an outline of the frequency and content of negative comments and behaviors – so what are some positive behaviors parents of young athletes can use? SPINW has compiled a list of positive traits for parents and coaches of young athletes below.

-Encourage, but don’t force – encourage children to play sports, but don’t force them if they really don’t want to.

-Set limits on participation – base participation of children on their physical and emotional readiness. Doing too much can lead to injury or burnout.

-Set goals – help children set realistic goals for performance.

-Winning isn’t everything – keep your child’s focus on having fun and giving their best effort, not winning at all cost.

-Let the coach coach – when a child is at practice or a game, parents should let coaches do their job, and avoid giving advice or criticisms.