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 & Coaching, 6(1), 13-26.