We all put our children in sports with the best of intentions. We hope that they will enjoy it and learn lessons about teamwork, sacrifice, and form lifelong friendships along the way. But sometimes, despite the best of intentions, sports bring out the worst in parents, ruining youth sports for kids. So here is some winning advice for parents to avoid being labeled a bad sports parent.

1. Be supportive (but not too supportive)

According to licensed mental health counselor and certified mental game coaching professional Jaki Hitzelberger, who specializes in youth sports psychology, a common problem for sports parents is the constant praise. The parent’s intention is to build up a child’s self-esteem with constant praise. However, the constant praise has the opposite effect on the child, instead of building high-self esteem, it creates the fear of failure and pressure to excel. The result is anxiety which impacts performance. So what can you do? Be supportive of the process. Find the balance that encourages your child to enjoy their time playing sports without focusing solely on the result. Let your child know that you are proud of them for performing their best and your love is not conditioned on victory.

2. Model Winning Behavior

Modeling winning behavior for our kids will create winning habits as our children mimic everything we do. So get off the cell phone at your child’s game. Be present. That doesn’t just include when the whistle blows. Winning behavior includes pre-game behavior, sideline behavior, and post-game behavior. Avoid unnecessary conflict aimed at the other team, referee, or coach (yes, it is easier said than done and perhaps some referees truly are blind). Sports are filled with emotion. If we as parents cannot control our own emotions, how can we teach our children to control theirs? We want our children to learn how to have a winning behavior. After all, it goes without saying that winners focus on winning and losers focus on winners. Pro Tip: encourage pre-game focus, during the game cheer loudly for good plays (momentum is everything), and don’t harass the other team.  

3. Know Your Place

Some parents show their love and support through loud vocalization. And that is okay! But do not overstep and become a sideline coach. Watching your child play sports is a winning experience on its own. It’s easy to fall into the trap of coaching from the sideline. After all, you want your child to perform their best.  If you find yourself turning into a sideline coach, instead of a sideline cheerleader, it is time to take a step back. This moment is not about you, and by coaching from the sidelines, you are taking your child’s, as well as other team member’s, focus away from the game at hand. Instead of coaching (as you are not the coach and you could be giving contradicting advice), focus on encouraging the team.

4. Manage expectations

All parents want their child to be a star. Perhaps your child really is a star. Or, perhaps your child best serves the team by riding the bench all season long. Either way, the lesson is that a team is greater than one individual. That is the purpose putting your child in sports, to learn this. Don’t take away from this lesson by blaming others or blaming the coach. Wherever your child stands in the line-up, accept it. This will help your child accept it as well and move forward. Want more playing time? Practice. Want more goals? Practice. What does this teach? Commitment.

5. Accept Defeat

Victory is sweet, and losing? Losing can sting worse than the sweetest victory. But the real lessons in sports are learned in defeat. This lesson isn’t just for your child either. Parent’s must also accept their child’s losses. Don’t hold your child back from being upset or hung up on defeat.  One of life’s greatest lessons is learning how to lose. It is reality, you cannot win them all in life or in sport but you must learn to move passed it. There will always be someone better than you (and your child). In sports, you must learn to graciously accept defeat and pick yourself up again. Help your child do this.So what can you do? If your child wants to debrief or talk about the game, encourage them to.  Teach your child to learn from the defeat. It is merely an obstacle that shows you your weakness that you may not have otherwise known. It can trigger your child to change his or her mindset, and ultimately toward success. This lesson from the field will carry over to school, and later your child’s career.

We love sports! Although they can bring out the bad sports parents, they don’t have to. Sports can also can bring out the best in all of us. Sports create memories that will last a lifetime. Make those memories count.  Enjoy game day sports parents!

To learn more about Jaki Hitzelberger LMHC, MGCP check out her website or follow her on Instagram.

Want more sports? Check out What High School Coaches Want Parents To Know. 

Photo Credits: Rhonda Frix

advice for sports parents