From Parenting 24/7: University of Illinois Extension


Positive Sports Parenting

Posted Sep 27, 2007.

Positive Sports Parenting

Parent involvement in youth sports can be good for kids in many ways. However, the benefits can also be overshadowed by negative or inappropriate involvement by parents. It is important to recognize when emotions and competition get out of control. Far too often, we’ve heard of, read about, or witnessed a parent’s inappropriate behavior on the side lines.

Positive Parent Involvement

Positive parent involvement means looking out for a child’s needs and interests. Parents can do this in sports by:

  • Attending games
  • Applauding all participants
  • Encouraging children to have fun and make new friends
  • Encouraging children to learn the fundamentals of the game
  • Helping their child understand the importance of the rules
  • Modeling appropriate behavior
  • Being friendly to the opposing team and their fans
  • Emphasizing the importance of the child’s best effort
  • Discussing how the child can improve his skills when he did not perform as well as he expected (keeping it future focused)
  • Having open family discussions with their child about how everyone feels
  • Honoring how the child would like her parents to be involved
  • When there is positive involvement by parents:

  • Youth are more likely to enjoy their sports experience
  • Children tend to participate longer
  • Misunderstandings, pressure and competitive stress are reduced
  • Youth are better able to cope with sport related stress
  • Parent-youth relationships are improved
  • Youth are more competent and feel better about themselves
  • To Play or Not to Play

    Parents know their children’s interests, abilities, and talents. The choice of sport should be a family decision and take into consideration how it will affect the family (transportation issues, mealtimes, family time, etc).

    The Putting Youth Back into Sports curriculum suggest that parents also need to take into account how the decision can affect the parent-child relationship. For example, is the youth angry because his parents will not allow him to play football? Or is the young girl relieved that her parents no longer require her to go to gymnastics? Helping children develop their own interest in sports is far different than forcing a child into a sport they are not interested in to fulfill the parent’s dreams. The bottom line is that children should enjoy the sport and want to continue playing.

    Putting Youth Back into Sports also provides a list of questions for parents to think about when choosing to get their child involved in a sport:

  • How many practices and games per week are there?
  • How long does the season last?
  • What are the parents’ responsibilities?
  • Does the league emphasize that all children will play?
  • Is everyone – including the less-skilled players – treated fairly?
  • Is the league ultra-competitive? Are the children taught to win at all costs or to focus on self-improvement and having fun?

    Parents must consider their commitment to helping the child attend practices and games on a regular basis.

    How Parents Influence Children

    Parents influence children in many ways through sports. Knowing that someone loves and accepts you unconditionally is apparent to the child who is allowed to make a mistake during the game. Parents with high levels of acceptance are able to refrain from humiliating a child who makes an error. Their child does not have to be the best; it is enough that they do their best.

    Parents also influence their children by modeling the type of behavior and attitudes that are important to them. If a parent demonstrates respect and concern for others around them their child notices. But if a parent becomes irate and yells at the referee for a “bad call”, the child learns nothing about good sportsmanship and appropriate conduct.

    Here are some guidelines for recognizing when you’ve “crossed the line” into poor sportsmanship:

  • You are feeling angry
  • You are making inappropriate statements to your child, the other players, the coaches, the officials, or other spectators
  • Your child acts embarrassed by your behavior
  • You notice a negative reaction from the coach or other parents

    If this is happening to you, it may be time to reevaluate your own behavior and expectations for your child participating in sports.

    Knowing When to Let Up

    Spectators at sporting events want their team to win. This feeling is magnified if the event includes one of their children. Parents need to understand that “winning” is not the only successful outcome from a youth sporting event.

    Sports can be a good way for youth to learn teamwork, gain skills, and increase self confidence. But sports may not be right for all kids, or there may come a time to leave a sport. If a child is constantly blaming the officials or teammates for not having a good game or making excuses to not attend practice it might be a signal that the youth is “burned out” and not wanting to play that sport.


    Video presentation for picking a sport for children under twelve:

    Youth Sports without the Burnout

    South Dakota State University and Penn State University Publication, Putting Youth Back into Sports: A Training Curriculum. Copyright, 2003. South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota.

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