We talked to youth-sport experts about what parents should and should not do if they want to provide the right kind of support for their young athletes.
Gotten any dirty looks at the ball field lately? Feel like people are avoiding you in the ice-rink parking lot? Is it possible you're one of those parents? You know - the ones who yell too much, push too hard or cause scenes in the stands?
Columbus Parent asked Ted Breidenthal of Citizenship Through Sports Alliance in Overland Park, Kansas, and John Engh, chief operating officer of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, to offer some questions parents can ask themselves about their behavior on game day to see if there's room for improvement.
Do you know your role at the game?
There are four roles in every sporting event - player, coach, spectator and official, Breidenthal said. Each person can only fill one role. Therefore parents should not be coaching the players or criticizing the performance of the officials. "A fan is there just to be a fan," he said.
Do you demonstrate good sportsmanship to your child?
Parents should not only encourage their child to be a good sport, but be a constant model of it, Engh said. Parents can set good example by cheering for players on both teams. "After games, if parents congratulate the players on the opposing team or go out of their way to acknowledge a youngster who made a great play their child will adopt those same types of behaviors," he said.
How often do you say "I love to watch you play" to your child?
Hearing those words makes kids feel great and reduces the pressure on them, Breidenthal said. It's also way of telling the child, "I love to watch you have fun," which is a great message for young athletes, he said.
Is my behavior impacting my child's enjoyment of the game?
Children play sports to have fun and loud, obnoxious parents aren't fun. "Children don't want to listen to their parents yelling from the stands to go after the ball; they don't want to hear them berating officials for a call that goes against the team; and they don't want to be told what they are doing wrong," Engh said. "What they do want is to have fun playing a game."
Do you spend the car ride home rehashing the game?
Numerous studies have shown that kids don't want to talk about a game on the way home, Breidenthal said. Rehashing missed plays or bad calls sucks the fun out of the experience, he added. "Don't say anything about the game unless they bring it up," he said.
Are you letting your child set his or her own sporting goals?
It's unacceptable to try and push your goals onto your children, Breidenthal said. He suggests asking children what their goals are and "owning them 100 percent." He added, "We need to want it less than our kids."
Keeping parents in line isn't the goal of youth sporting associations, but organizers say it's become part of the job.
Many leagues ask parents to attend meetings where they discuss what behavior the organization won't tolerate in the stands. Others ask parents to sign agreements promising to behave during games.
"The parents are the adults," said Jim Sturm, president of Mid Ohio Select Soccer League. "They're expected to be in control."
In addition to throwing unruly parents out of games, some teams let parents know their bad behavior can impact their child's playing time, he said. That usually puts parents on their best behavior.
Team volunteers for the Thomas Worthington High School water polo program usually invite parents to participate in a practice at least once a season. Reminding parents how hard their kids are working can help them behave better in the stands, said Shawn Cline, founder of Chimera Water Polo, which organizes camps for area enthusiasts.
She urges parents to think before they speak to coach or referee. "It takes a lot of asking yourself, 'What's my motivation for having this conversation?' "
If the answer is not to make the program better for all participants, it's probably best to keep your thoughts to yourself, she said.
She also encourages parents to find a fellow parent they can vent to in confidence and learn to know when they need to leave the stands.
When Cline feels her frustration levels increase during a match, she ejects herself from the event. "I feel a foul coming on so I exclude myself," she said. "I leave the area."