Parent Involvement in Kids Sports – How Much Is Too Much?

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Parents naturally get invested in their child’s sports classes, teams, and competitions. How can they not, when they are spending lots of money on training fees, new equipment as well as the time invested to take their children to the sessions and competitions. However at what point does this involvement become too much? There are many reported incidents of the line being crossed with parents shouting abuse at referees, coaches, and even the children! These altercations also sometimes spill over into physical violence.

A survey carried out found that 40% of children involved in cricket in Australia have seen an adult abusing an official, and over 25% said they believed winning was more important to their parents than them.

It has led to many people leaving these roles as they can no longer take the abuse being thrown their way. A football coach left this sport, after parents invaded a U15 game and began to assault the players, it was the breaking point after many events such as parents shouting at him that he didn’t know what he was doing, parents telling children on his team to ignore him and seeing his own son abused by opposition parents. He described it as a toxic, nasty environment”.

Many sports governing bodies and the clubs themselves have realized the issue and have felt the need to put guidelines in place. One Rugby club reminds parents “This is mini rugby not the world cup final”. Unfortunately some parents still live their past sports careers through their children.

Sam Thrower during his Ph.D. with Loughborough University ran workshops for parents of children involved in tennis, which included creating better relationships with club staff and how best to support their children. He described the time invested as part of the reason for the behavior but also their own goals for their children- of course, a parent has goals for their children, they want them to be the best they can be, but do they always go about this in the best manner?

So is shouting instructions from the touchline and the negative behavior helping your child?

According to Rene Meulensteen, a former head of youth development at Manchester United, a club renowned for bringing through young players from their academies, the answer is no. “Footballers cannot learn how to make their own decisions if they are used to receiving instructions from the touchline” Creativity is a key area for both playing sports and in other walks of life, so why would we want to take that away? Many of the best players in the world grew up on street football, with no adults giving instructions; the only way to become successful was trial and error, to improvise and to be creative. If this approach worked for players of the ilk of Messi, Aguero, and Suarez, why would we try a different approach that also takes the joy of the sport away?

Dr. Omli, from California Poly State University, who studied attitudes of those who drop out of sport said; many of the top 10 reasons are attributed to negative behavior from the adults involved in the sport including parents and coaches.

Our aim is to develop creative players and individuals and to keep children involved in sport and enjoying it, we should become a supportive spectator. Pay close attention, give encouragement in the breaks but when the play is ongoing, leave it to those who are on the pitch.

At Sport4Kids we believe the relationship between the coach and parent should be a positive one. We encourage parents to be involved, be supportive but to let the coaches and referees do their jobs that they are qualified and trained to do. Children will have a better sporting experience and will learn how to be team players, how to communicate correctly, how to accept defeat and be gracious in victory. Let’s all make a difference and lead by example!

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