As coaches, we tend to stand on opposite sides of the field to parents and family members, as we all observe the young players enjoying the beautiful game of soccer. As a coach, I attempt to create an environment where each child can fully express themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and socially without inference or consequence. There is a continuation of “Trust” between coach and player, that the players understand when they participate, it’s an individualistic opportunity to capitalize on learning and developing. As a coach and more importantly as a role model I won’t interfere with such learning processes. While this is the case, within a minority of coaching environments, I continue to observe insecure coaches and parents trying to interfere with a child’s learning environment, in turn only hindering a child’s learning and development. As children continue to participate in the game, the prospect of observing diverse approaches, behaviours and characteristics of youth sports parents on the opposite side captures my attention. Parent’s behaviours can be a source of either support or stress to young athletes (Côté and Hay 2001). In those situations, I tend to ask myself “If an adult is infused from observing the game, yet distracted by approaches and behaviours from the opposite sideline, how can a young child deal, participate and learn under such conditions?
Young people are too frequently looked upon as problems waiting to be solved, however, young people are understood to embody potential, awaiting development (Positive Youth Development Through Sport, 2008). The problem surrounding parental involvement exists due to the lack of patience concerning development and the necessity for instant success. Youth sports parents have their set beliefs that have stemmed from past experiences (Directly or indirectly). Discussing the matter in greater depths with parents concerning how they view youth sports and more importantly how their parents viewed sports, you then begin to unravel an understanding of how and why they act and behave in a certain way on the sideline. Sports, in general, has evolved massively since parents of children participating in sports today. We as coaches, spectators and parents must learn from the past and embrace the current and future approaches to the game. The role of the modern coach is far broader than simply coaching, due to one of the major increases in parental involvement. To enhance the sporting experience for the child coaches much positively collaborate with parents (Mechanick, & Gould, 2013). (See the “Athletic Triangle” blog) Dispute the evidence that 70% of kids quit organized youth sports by the age of 13 with 9 out of 10 children stated they were no longer having fun (Changing The Game Project). We continue to hear about intrusive and over-bearing parents.
As you can imagine some over-bearing parents can be easily identifiable by their body language, vocally very critical of the player, team and/or coach etc. In contrast other youth sports parent(s) are more discrete in their approach, some may even appear disinterested.
Below is a list of the most common characteristics of youth sports parents that have a greater influence on the young athletes:
Notably, those disinterested parents rarely attend practices or games or show any great passion and enthusiasm surrounding the participation of their child in a certain sport. We’ve all participated and executed a skill, save, pass and/or shot and immediately look at loved ones for support and the famous “Thumbs up”. Imagine how an individual feels when they don’t have anyone on the sideline… Coaches must understand there could be multiple reasons WHY parents seemingly appear disinterested. For example, work, sickness, financial complications, conflicts, unaware of the benefits and value of parental involvement (Smith, & Smoll, 2007). Coaches should calmly inquire about the parent(s) lack of involvement in their child’s sporting activities, it’s important to reiterate we should never approach parents aggressively, presumptuous or negatively. We should highlight the parent(s) role within the sporting organization and provide positive and benefits of their contribution not only to the team as a whole but for their own child’s level of enjoyment.
Identifying over-critical youth sports parents can be deceptive at times, a high percentage of parents don’t want to embarrass themselves, by vocally criticizing anyone. They will remain silent on the sideline, then begin to critique the child individually after the game e.g. walking from the field, the ride home, at the house. These “over-critical publically silent” youth sports parents are very hard to identify. Personally, there are two ways to identify these silent over-critical parent(s), players will try and burden the pressure and comments made by the parents, they then begin to display this in a number of ways as they play with a fear of disappointment and consistently look to the sideline for reassurance. Secondly, when coaches discuss the practices and/or games with the parent(s), they’ll often comment on their child’s inconsistent performances or coaching methodologies etc. In contrast, coaches can easily identify the extreme opposite over-critical youth sports parents as they vocally share their frustrations a loft with everyone whilst the game is underway. According to Smith, & Smoll, (2007), these types of parents provide us with the impression that it’s “their” game, and when the young athlete fails they do. Young children rely more on adult feedback (Weiss, 2003), parents such take the opportunity to provide praise and encouragement, not criticism.
From my own experiences, I’ve never approached a parent(s) individual and publically to educate the sideline. I’ve always gathered the whole parent group and generalized my beliefs and highlighted the benefits of decreasing the amount of pressure we placed on the young athletes and its implications. If coaches were to publically humiliate the parent(s), the situation would result in a very confrontational and aggressive dialogue. Coaches need to clearly articulate the benefits of exercising praise and encouragement to inspire young athletes. If the matter continued, I advise coaches to create a questionnaire for young athletes to confidentially express themselves on how it truly feels being overly criticized. Coaches can then present the evidence to the parents, personally, this procedure really hit home with parents (such questionnaire example will be made available soon).
I’ve encountered two different types of sideline coaching, 1) the parent offers coaching advice to the whole team 2) individual coaching suggestions to their own child. Coaches should firstly appreciate that the parent, whole-hearty wants the best for the team and to succeed. The latter is where the problem is associated with, success is very often defined differently. In which case, the parent(s) instructions are more or less contradicting the coaches and causing confusion. Parents have several opportunities to provide immediate and specific feedback to their children, (Weiss, 2003), however, some parents fail to comprehend this provides them with a greater opportunity to positively influence children’s enjoyment of sport and self-concept development (Brustad,
1996). Again, I reiterate never to confront the parent immediately, regardless of how frustrating the comment may be. The first procedure is always a whole parent group discussion and generalizing the topic without pointing any fingers. The connection between supportive evidence and individual short & long terms benefits is greater than solely highlighting the negativity surrounding one’s approach. My personal approach was exactly that, discussing the matter positively with every parent as a group and highlight its benefit. However, I wanted to take it one step further, I created a social experiment that created an environment for parents to truly experience and feels how the young athletes felt during match day if they were continuously told what to do (See “Experiment” for further details). It’s important that you understand the relationship between coach and parents before attempting such experiment, I attempted such experiment after collaborating with the parents for 8months prior.
We can recognise from all the common yet different characteristics of youth sports parents is they all have a foundation of “good intent” and wanting the best for the team and/or child. As mentioned previously, there could be many diverse reasons behind each approach and behaviors, coaches need to understand WHY before attempting to embrace the educational processes for parents. There isn’t really a wrong way for parents to approach the game, it’s always a better way to benefit the level of enjoyment for the child. Parents need to ask themselves, do you want your child to become a statistic that quit sport by the age of 13?
The Sporting Influencer
Brustad, R. J. (1996a). Parental and peer influences on children’s psychological development through sport. In F. L. Small & R. E. Smith (Eds), Children and youth sport: A biopsychosocial perspective (pp.112-124). Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark.
Côté, J. and Hay, J., (2001). Family Influences on Youth Sports Performance and Participation, in Silva, J. M. III and Stevens, D. E., eds., Psychological Foundations of Sport, Allyn and Bacon Publishers, Boston, MA, 503-519.
Smith, R. E., & Smoll, F. L. (2007). Social-cognitive approach coaching behaviors. In S. Jowett & D. Lavallee (Eds.), Social psychology in sport (pp. 75-90). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Changing the game project – http://changingthegameproject.com
Weiss, M. R., (2003) Social Influences on Children’s Psychosocial Development in Youth Sports, in Malina, R. M. and Clark, M. A., eds., Youth Sports: Perspectives for a New Century, Coaches Choice Publishers, Monterey, California, 2003, 109-126.