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Which Sport Parents Behave Best at Youth Sports?

Which parents behave best in youth sports? 

Over the years many stories have emerged of sport parents behaving badly at youth sport events.  This includes videos of parents arguing and fighting with other parents, coaches, umpires/referees, and other youth participants.  Some adults have even faced legal charges resulting from their actions.

From little league and youth sports all the way up to the professional ranks family members play a significant role in the life of an athlete. Fortunately, not all sport parents are out-of-control.  Demonstration of a professional demeanor can be achieved over raging.  Researchers at the University of Alberta published their sport parent findings in a 2019 edition of the journal Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.  The results found parents who promoted an autonomous-supportive emotional culture were deemed to be the “best parents” by coaches.  What does autonomous-supportive mean?  Specific behaviors include not forcing the athlete’s direction, creating mutual goals, promoting independence, and highlighting effort and fun.  Other specific behaviors include trusting coaches, supporting the team/club, and assisting before competitions.

As a sports/performance psychologist I find the most compelling study finding to be effective sport parents “monitor one’s emotions during and after competition.”  This suggests parents actively self-check their emotions and actions during competition, but also afterwards. Therefore a great suggestion for being a better sport parent is periodically taking time to check one’s self.  “What am doing?”  “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”  Are my actions in the best interest of the team/athlete?”  “Is this my agenda, or the team’s/athlete’s?”  We typically are discouraged from comparing ourselves to others but in this case another great question to ask is “How do my actions compare to others?”

Learning to manage our emotions and those of others are integral to emotional intelligence, which has been found to be productive in many aspects of life, work, and sport.  These behaviors can be applied to other parent/youth activities.  Being a parent of an activity-based child involves many potential joys, but also challenges.  Negative parent behavior can be found in any child-based activity.

The great news is that developing these sport parent-specific behaviors and emotional intelligence can be learned.  Interested in developing these skills?  Call today to get started!

Rick Van Haveren, Ph.D.


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