For Parents: Sportsmanship from the Stands

For years now, you’ve driven your child to practices and games, enduring all that goes in to the preparation for such events. You’ve witnessed the emotional roller-coaster first hand of your child or one of their teammates making a great play and then subsequently making a mistake. You’ve seen the stress, the anxiety, and the disappointment. You’ve played the role of encourager, counselor, motivator, and disciplinarian. Such is the life of the youth sports’ parent.

There are times in some games where the frustration and disappointment from your child’s team is felt so strongly by parents in the stands that they feel the need to react. Maybe it’s a perceived bad call from a ref. Maybe it’s the unsportsmanlike play of the opponent. When these things happen, it’s no longer only the behavior of your child that’s important.

Don’t be the Parent that ends up on YouTube

You’ve seen the stories: “12 Year Old Girls’ Basketball Game Ends in Brawl”. “Coaches Throw Punches at Pee Wee Football Game.” “Parent Ejected for Arguing with Umpire.” You can get on YouTube and find dozens of disheartening videos where parents don’t like something that happens on the field or court, and they go crazy. Their attitudes and actions are being seen by hundreds of spectators, but more importantly, they’re being seen by the kids playing the game. In fact, in a 2009 survey by Sports Illustrated for Kids, 70% of kids surveyed said they’ve seen parents shout loudly from the stands, while 32% have seen parents argue with coaches.

Every game your child plays should have this basic understanding: this game is supposed to be fun, so help to make it fun for your child. At the end of the day, it’s just a game. Win or lose, it’s just a game.

What Not To Do

  • Don’t complain. There’s no need to even put a caveat as to whom you should not complain to or about, because complaining in general is negative and has zero benefit. It’s important to not only avoid complaining at the game itself, but also on the ride home and at home in front of your child. If you have a legitimate concern about something, you may address it with the coach a few days after the game.

  • Don’t “boo” the other team. Your child’s opponent is just like your child. They have the same goal and same desire to win. “Booing” an opponent or talking negatively about them in any way takes the game to a serious level, measuring the opponent as something more offensive than just a young athlete wanting to have fun and compete.

  • Don’t cheer for just your child. It’s easy as a parent to put on blinders and only care about your own kid on the court. Doing that not only ignores your child’s teammates and their efforts, but it puts undue pressure on your son/daughter to be the best.

What You Should Do

  • Thank the coaches and referees. Their efforts should not go unnoticed. Even if you have a disagreement with them, remember they’re giving their time to help your child enjoy a competitive sports’ environment.

  • Cheer for the whole team, and congratulate them all after the game. Your child wants to know you care about not just them, but the team as a whole. The atmosphere is much different when you’re congratulating everyone on the team regardless of the outcome of the game.

  • Talk to your child about the game and their team, not just their own performance. When you ask your child how they felt they played after a game, especially after a poor performance, you’re adding pressure and disappointment to them they don’t need. By asking about the team’s performance you take that pressure off of them. If the team did lose, point out some specific things you think the team did well. Always, always, always be positive.

Refereeing Respect

The most underappreciated person of any sporting event is always the referee. Why is that? They are there to help make sure the rules of the game are followed so everyone can enjoy it. Often times, however, they’re treated poorly by coaches and spectators alike.

Have a foundational understanding that refs are people. They’re human just like you, and make mistakes from time to time. Rarely do those mistakes impact the outcome of a game. The words you say to and about a referee can have great impact on your child. It will help them to understand that A) referees are the authority in the game and they are to be respected, and B) refs make mistakes just like everyone does.

It All Comes Down To This

During a game, emotions are high. The stress level is great. You may have anxiety about what’s going on similar to your son/daughter. Step back and look at the big picture, asking this question: “Am I making the sport more enjoyable or less enjoyable for my child?” Answering this question gets to the very heart of what your child wants, and that’s to have fun. Parents, are your words and actions adding to their enjoyment or taking away from it?