“What Were You Thinking?” Looking Through The Eyes Of A Child

By Kaitlyn W.

If you have ever taken part in sports you’ve experienced the “nightmare sport parent”; the one adult who thinks he/she is the coach, lives vicariously through his/her kid, and believes winning is everything. What these parents fail to recognize is that their idea of constructive criticism is actually detrimental to their child’s sport experience. Additionally, their reactive behavior reduces the coach’s ability to effectively lead. Many news articles detail how coaches can feel suffocated when the over-critical parent continually scrutinizes their decisions.

Sport has the potential to foster youth development through basic movement and interactions between teammates and coaches. Physical, emotional and psychological well-being, which are fundamentally important for youth development, are often suppressed when parents place too much pressure on the child. An article, which names the athlete-coach-parent relationship the “Athletic Triangle”, characterizes the controlling parent and provides strategies coaches may use to address them (Smoll, Cumming, & Smith, 2011). Parents need to understand that youth sports are intended to be an educational process and not a commercialized enterprise as with professional sports. Children have the right to develop their own athletic identity.

The Collaborative Learning Theory suggests youth development should be dependent on the child and continuous guidance and support from the adults. Smoll et al. (2011), discuss the Reversed Dependency Phenomenon where parents live through their child, identifying themselves through their child’s failures and successes.

These relationships create negative feelings towards the sport instead of the parent for their behavior. Characteristics like the five C’s of youth development (see Jones, Dunn, Holt, Sullivan, & Bloom, 2011): competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring begin to regress and the child no longer develops to their potential. A coach plays an important role in a developing athlete’s life. It is important that the relationship between parent and coach is portrayed positively to set a good example.

Canadian Sport For Life wrote a “Sport Parent Guide”. It’s based on the Long-Term Athlete Development Model, which “recognizes the distinct stages of physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional development in child athletes” (Canadian Sport Center, 2007).  Parents can reference this guide to better understand their youth’s journey and positively influence their development.

In 2003, Hockey Canada (2003) put together a “Relax, It’s Just A Game Campaign”. They created short clips and slogans that were broadcasted through TV, radio and print in an effort to change parent’s unacceptable behaviors. Using humor to reverse the roles of adult and child, kids sarcastically hounded their parents on everyday tasks. The campaign was popular and well liked within the advertising world however, the message was not seriously received.

Youth sports, although competitive, should be a safe place for kids to enhance life skills and build on relationships. Parents should encourage kids to be physically active and take part in activities that excite them. Inducing stressful experiences, which lead to seclusion and insecurity, should be avoided at all cost. Youth sports should be fun and an opportunity for parents to be involved and connect on a common ground. It is time that parents relax, take a step back, and allow kids to build their own sport identity without irate comments and harsh criticism.

For additional reading:

Canadian Sport Center. (2007). Canadian sport for life a sport parent guide. Canadian Sport Center, Retrieved from http://canadiansportforlife.ca/resources/sport-parents-guide

Henson, S. (2012, 2 15). What makes a nightmare sports parent — and what makes a great one. The Post Game. Retrieved from http://www.thepostgame.com/blog/more-family-fun/201202/what-makes-nightmare-sports-parent

Hockey Canada. (2003). ‘Relax, it’s just a game- becomes catchy phrase. Retrieved from http://www.canoe.ca/HockeyCanadaWeek/2.html

Jones, M. I., Dunn, J. G. H., Holt, N. L., Sullivan, P. J., & Bloom, G. A. (2011). Exploring the ‘5Cs’ of positive youth development in sport. Journal of Sport Behavior, 34(3), 250-267.

Smoll, F. L., Cumming, S. P., & Smith, R. E. (2011). Enhancing Coach-Parent Relationships in Youth Sports: Increasing Harmony and Minimizing Hassle. International Journal Of Sports Science & Coaching6(1), 13-26.

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4 Responses to “What Were You Thinking?” Looking Through The Eyes Of A Child

  1. ahaiart says:

    Great post Kaitlyn.
    I agree with you to the fullest extent on this issue. It is important to learn the difference between being engaged in your childrens’ sport and interfering with the experience. I believe it is important for parents to take a role with the activity. However, as mentioned in your blog, this can be detrimental to their development. I am not sure if this overbearing parent style is new to the recent generations, but if it is, I think we need to look at what value we put on sport now a days.
    Even university sport has evolved into an entertainment business. Revenue is great for many university programs as their teams are commercialized. From this, the programs are given the opportunity to give more scholarships to upcoming students. Of course every parent would love if their child received an athletic scholarship, but should this outcome be the reason why parents push their children and interfere with their learning experience?
    This argument leads to our value towards intrinsic and extrinsic value of sport. We start a sport because we enjoy running around, making friends and learning different skills. However, with sports scholarships and even professional contracts, our extrinsic value towards the sport starts to outweigh our original thoughts of why we started to participate.
    Again, great blog Kaitlyn. You bring up some very strong arguments and I’d argue many of us agree with your thoughts.
    Alex Haiart

  2. s33ue says:

    Excellent blog Kaitlyn!
    I think that we have all seen those parents whether it be through our own sports or watching others. The parents who do all the yelling and screaming at both the players and coaches, make their way to the dressing room after the games or before practice to either speak to the child or coach. This kind of control from parents will only hinder the athletes performance.
    Youth participating in sport and recreation are given the opportunity to develop into their own person and grow with other children. It is a time when they can have influence from other adults, not their parents to help with their development.
    When a parent is trying to live through the eyes of their child, it can hinder the experience of the sport for that child. All parents want to see their child excel at a sport and do their best, however there is a line that some parents cross. Crossing this line resorts in youth not wishing to continue with the sport because they no longer enjoy it or because they are simply being over worked by their parents.
    When youth are participating in sport there need to be guidelines for parents in the amount of involvement they have. The coach is the coach for a reason and the parents need to understand they are not the leader. It is crucial for parents to be involved in the sports but they need to respect the youth participating and the coaches ability. I think if there was more focus and guidelines on where parents can go during practices and games the coaches would have a better success at keeping them separate from the youth.

    Gina R

  3. colleendaly says:

    Really enjoyed reading this!
    Parents have such an important role in fostering their child’s development. Coaches also have a large role when it comes to influencing their players. Unfortunately, parents can effect the relationship between a coach and a player. There are many parents who are so caught up in their child being successful as an athlete that they will do anything in order for their child to have the opportunity to be the best. Sadly, if parents do not get these results, it is common that they will blame the coach, and speak negatively about him or her in front of their child. When a child hears constant negative comments about his or her coach, he or she will begin to have doubts about their coach, and not listen because they believe their parents know more. This can really effect youth to develop in a positive way. Children may become disrespectful toward their coach and this will make it very difficult for the coach to have any influence on the child.
    Parents have to understand that their role as a spectator is to cheer on their child and his or her team. Players hear enough negativity from their coach, friends, etc, after a bad game and do not need to hear negative comments from their parents as well.
    It is very sad but kids sometimes drop out of sport due to their parents being to intense and putting to much pressure on them. Parents role is to support their child in sport, and encourage them to be active their entire life. Sport can become a negative experience for youth, because of their parents behaviour, and therefore decide not to continue to be active and participate in sport.
    Excellent blog Kaitlyn, I completely agree that parents need to step back, and let their child enjoy the many benefits that sport can offer.
    Colleen D

  4. sarahholt4 says:

    I also agree that everyone has at least witnessed or been the child of a “nightmare sport parent”. You stated that many articles show how coaches can feel suffocated when the parent continually scrutinizes their decisions, and I can say that I have seen this happen many times throughout my childhood while playing sports. There was always this one parent that came to every single game, practice, etc. (Not saying it is a bad thing for a parent to watch their child play, but..). They were always continually yelling and screaming, not only at the coach, but at their child. Even at a young age I remember going home to my mom and asking her why they yelled so much. I could see that it was setting off a negative vibe towards the certain child. This later lead to the certain parent not being allowed to enter some of the gyms at away tournaments. After talking to this certain child as we got older, they hated when their parents came to games as they got older. They were scared to make a mistake and just didn’t want them to be there! I think that parents should not be allowed to go to the practices of their child’s sports team because it can make it so the child does not play to their full potential if their parent is sitting there constantly judging them. I agree that kids need to be able to create their own relationships with kids their own age with similar interests; without their parents along their side. Sport is one of the best places to create life-long friendships and create a positive youth development. Kids need to know that there are other people they can talk to besides their parents.
    Sarah H.

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