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12/30/14blog post

10 ways to not be the angry sideline parent

By: Dr. Lora Scott, sports medicine physician

It’s a typical youth football game. Kids are on the side lines cheering on their teammates for another first down or to play tough defense. The score is close and the game becomes a heated battle. Fans and parents are shouting. The final touchdown is scored and the game ends with the teams lined up to shake hands. This is where things spiral out of control…. coaches fight, parents and fans rush the field, and the kids are left standing; watching it all.

I wish I could say that this is not a problem for all parents, but unfortunately I’ve also seen these types of behaviors at far too many local events. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the growing problem of poor parental behavior and sportsmanship at children’s games.

There are many benefits to youth sports participation, including improved sleep, improved school performance, and lower likelihood of being overweight. However, these are all dependent on parental behavior. Parents can be a key player in determining how much fun their children have, and whether or not they want to continue sports.

A survey of young athletes found that around a third of children felt their parents had overreacted from the sidelines at least once. When nearly 60 million American kids play organized sports, this amounts to a lot of poor parental behavior.

While most parents are supportive, excited, and encouraging the majority of the time, it is easy to get emotionally involved and out of hand from time-to-time. This behavior is called “over-identification.” Parents put a higher value on the results of the child’s game than what is considered acceptable.

How can you be sure that you keep your emotions in check and keep things fun for your child?

10 tips on avoiding poor parenting sportsmanship

  1. Have fun! You shouldn’t be feeling angry or upset at every game. Take a moment to breathe and enjoy watching your child just play.
  2. Be vocally encouraging without being distracting.
  3. When your behavior makes others uncomfortable, or it interferes with the game, you are taking it too far.
  4. Avoid setting expectations which your child is not developmentally ready to handle.
  5. Make your goals about seeing what your child does well, not the ultimate outcome of the game. Ask your child about what he or she enjoyed most during the game.
  6. Do not blame bad calls on the referees, coaches, or other players. Continue encouraging your child to do his or her best despite how the game goes.
  7. If you are concerned about a particular aspect of the game, speak privately with the coach or referee when the game is over.
  8. Remember that your child is a child first. He or she should not feel like your love and acceptance are based on sports performance. Children need to know that you love and accept them no matter how they perform, or what the score of the game is.
  9. If your child becomes injured, remember safety first; playing comes second.
  10. Relax, it’s just a game! Check out this funny video that reminds us that our kids don’t pressure us the way we pressure them.

You can teach and tell your children all about sportsmanship, but if you're not living it yourself from the sidelines, it doesn't mean anything. We all want to fight for what is best for our kids. Although we may think we are doing what is right by fighting a particular call or outcome, the results may have the opposite effect of what is intended.

Just remember, one year from today, this sports season will be a distant memory. Five years down the road, no one will remember the final scores, or even the names of most of the kids on the team so let’s keep our focus on what is important, the kids.

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Lora Scott, MD

program director sports medicine
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