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Parent behavior and youth sports

Original post made by Steele Harris, Menlo Park, on Feb 28, 2007

We have all either heard or read about the parent who takes their child's sporting event too seriously to the point of spoiling the fun for the kids and the parents in attendance.

Now that I have witnessed for myself the negative consequences of such behavior, it seems worthwhile to help spread the word about the dangers of overzealous parents at children's athletic functions.

This parent's tirade was directed at people whom he deemed responsible for the one-game suspension of two of his son's teammates. Their suspension was a result of conduct off the field. Of course, the team lost its next game.

It is unfortunate that the following day a few of the players were still fuming about their loss, looking to blame their defeat on player suspensions. Yet it is easy to understand why they would not see a problem with complaining about something outside of their control. They watched a parent berate several people close to the decision to suspend players during and after the game for all the players and other parents to hear.

The damage here extends beyond the misguided message that "winning is everything." The challenge now is how to convince these impressionable youths that while winning enhances the fun they are supposed to be having, both are secondary to the etiquette of proper sportsmanship.

Sadly, the idea that personal integrity is everything is a more difficult concept for them to embrace when it is not exhibited by their biggest role models.

Comments (11)

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Posted by Positron
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 28, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Check out Positive Coaching Alliance ( This should be a requirement for parents and coaches alike. Sports is not only about winning but also about teaching life's lessons. Without knowing what caused the suspension, it would seem that the suspended students are at fault. Their actions hurt their team. Someone should point out that. Rather than blaming administrators, parents should be ensuring that their children learn a lesson.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2007 at 11:49 pm

An essential life lesson - focus on the future, on what you can control, what you can do better, and what you can reasonably hope to change. It's also unfortunate that with someone like that, you can safely assume that any effort to mediate or mitigate will put you in their crosshairs next. It's a shame, because I think coaches and officials need plenty of allies these days.

I used to run the scoreboard for middle school basketball games and saw some awful officiating sometimes, (though I sympathize with the referee who has to draw the line on travels and double-dribbles for middle-schoolers in a small school league with lots of beginning players!). Anyway, after losses, or even close wins, my students would sometimes complain about the officiating. I would always ask them questions like, "Did he miss any layups? How many bad passes did the ref make? Did he box out, or give up too many offensive rebounds? Did he make his free throws? Did he make the extra pass?" I hoped those questions put students into a more generous frame of mind - "hmmm, I'm not perfect either!" - and made them realize that a few bad calls wouldn't have made the difference if the team had played better, so they should focus on that. After a while, I did notice some decrease in their complaints. Whether that was a real shift in attitude, or just a recognition that they should take it to a more sympathetic audience, I couldn't say for sure. (Now, in the privacy of my own home, I won't tell you what choice words I have for Pac-10 basketball officials sometimes!)

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Posted by sarlat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2007 at 9:10 am

I used to coach youth soccer and discontinued any involvement with it because of parents behavior. The worst aspect was sideline coaching. Many parents, who by the way knew nothing about the game, wouldn't stop screaming instruction to their kids. I tried to teach my players to play a certain way using specific tactics and a pre-designed stragedy, but they would get so confused by the screaming coming from the sidelines that they couldn't even remember the way they were supposed to play and started just booting the ball purposelessly. All attempts to get the parents to stop their sideline coaching had failed. Parents would commit to limit their involvement to just cheering their team on without sideline coaching, but once the game started, they reverted to their old ways.I heard that parents are even more obnoxious in Little League.

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Posted by ayso parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2007 at 9:37 am

I have seen ayso referees giving yellow cards to parents at soccer games. Usually these parents are completely unaware of how their behavior disrupts the game and the yellow card given in a light hearted but firm manner works wonders as the group of parents supporting the team then help the "miscreant" parent. It is often at the lower levels that the parents do this as they are not used to someone else being in charge of their child or telling their child what to do. I once heard a 1st grade parent shouting to a child on the field that if they didn't do what their coach told them they would have to come for time out on their blanket. That didn't fit well with the coach although the parent really felt that he was helping!!

Any of the little league games I have been to seem to be fine. Many of the parents know very little about the game as they were not raised in a baseball nation and don't know the rules themselves. This often helps because the parents get together and educate each other.

However, any problems I have seen usually go away when the parent that is alotted the positive coaching role has a quiet word with anyone who needs one.

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Posted by sarlat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2007 at 4:36 pm

I was actually referring to CYSA soccer, class-1. This is a league played at a much higher level than AYSO, players are chosen based on tryouts and the games are fiercely competitive. My experience has been that the sideline coaching parents couldn't help themselves. Even after pulling them aside at half-time and admonishing them and even after mid-week conversations, e-mails, phone calls, etc, once the game started, they would be back to their old tricks. In reality, it's about them and not the kids.

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Posted by former coach
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2007 at 11:04 pm

I used to coach youth sports too. I think I've cured myself of that habit. At first, I was coaching just to keep my kid from being on the team of another coach who was chasing kids out of the game. I got lots of training, went to a zillion clinics (Positive Coaching Alliance and many others) and for a while, thought I was helping the community.

But the majority of kids around here seem to believe that they are owed a starting spot, or a break when they skip practice, or special consideration because Mom and/or Dad are famous or rich. It got so depressing.

Though I had a few kids on my most recent team who were willing to do the work and learn the skills, and earn playing time, the majority seemed to feel that just by showing up they were doing me a huge favor. There are kids out there I loved working with, but when the Problem Kids outnumbered the hard workers, it was time for me to do something else.

I've had parents get yellow-carded at events. One got red-carded. Bad reffing is part of the game -- I tried to coach my kids to play well enough that a ref's terrible call wouldn't affect the outcome. I'd hear parents complain, after a huge loss, that the refs made our team lose. Uh, no they didn't. It was your kids, thinking that they didn't have to play the game well and that they could blame someone else for their misses, who cost the team the game.

I may coach again, but it won't be in Palo Alto.

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2007 at 12:03 am

As the parent of two youngsters (6, 4) who have yet to try organized sports, I'm pretty discouraged reading this thread. Are the YMCA leagues any better, anyone? I live across the street from a school where they sometimes play what appears to be the lowest level of baseball (parents pitch, kids maybe 6-7 year old players). First of all, it leaves me wondering why some kids who can't yet hit, throw, or catch - at all - are even playing baseball, which is a slow and boring game for most of the kids most of the game. You can be in the lineup and go 10, 20 minutes without being involved in a play. At least at that age a kid can kick a soccer ball and run, so soccer makes sense. Over the years, I've never seen one of these little baseball players record an out, unless the runner tried to stretch a single into a triple. I guess they bat around each inning and then switch places. But the sideline coaching happens even at that level. Not always, but as often as not, it seems like every time a pitch goes by, you hear some combination of, "Good eye, nice swing, step into it, keep your eye on the ball, nice level swing, keep your elbow up, wait for your pitch, good try, swing all the way through, choke up a bit, bring the bat back more..." All very positive, but sheesh, imagine trying to learn how to play the game with a dozen well-intentioned tips offered every time you step up to the plate.

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Posted by sarlat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2007 at 8:17 am

Just an example of how disruptive and counterproductive sideline coaching can be. I always coached my soccer players to never boot the ball aimlessly, even when the retrieve it in their own goal area but to look for an open teammate in order to build up a counterattack. When my players would get their ball in their own pernalty box, parents would scream:'boot it out of there, boot it out of there'. Often, the players would forget my teaching and just boot it out, almost always to the other team, which is very bad soccer. My advise to any parent signing their kid up, in any sport, would be to ask the coach to meet with all parents before the season begins and have all parents commit to zero sideline coaching.

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Posted by SoccerMom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2007 at 9:38 am

Just let your kids try it and ese how it goes. My kids' experience with local soccer and swimming was very positive, and I've met great parents and coaches over the years. AYSO and our small local swim team both go all out to teach graciousness while winning or losing. Over 12 years of course there will also be some negative people, feelings, and events, but those teach life lessons too. As long as you all agree that it's "only a game", the kids can learn lots about competition, dealing with disappointment, setting goals and OK, the thrill of victory. As a parent who never played sports herself, I learned a lot too.

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Posted by anonymous parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 6, 2007 at 12:49 pm

"just a game" ... in Palo Alto ... you've got to be kidding!

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Posted by Brian Laishes
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2008 at 12:20 pm

I found this thread as part of a Google Search, and was astounded to see so many disheartened soccer parents. Being miles away in Wisconsin, and of a Canadian background, you can well imagine that ice-hockey is a favorite sport of mine and my 2 boys, ages 12 and 7 have played for years in Youth Hockey in a very good association with strict rules of conduct that are signed at the beginning of the season by both players and parents.

Still, we are currenty having extensive problems with one Dad in particular, who, along with his own yelling at the refs, incites a couple of other Dads to join in the shouting. The Team Manager has emailed the 2nd Reprimand this season already, but it floors me as to the myopic vision of this otherwise intelligent Dad. So, I put a call to one of my clients who happens to be a very good psychotherapist, and sports fan, to ask him for some insight into this. I do confront this guy after his episodes and I tell him to cut it out and obey our Rules of Conduct, but I fear that he will not quit until the Association actually boots him out (bans him) from the remainder of the season (about 3 weeks or so).

This phenomenon of attempts to intimdate the referees and therefore potentially alter the course of a game, crosses all sports in this area. Parents cross that line constantly. Good Luck in Palo Alto, and I assure you that we feel the same pain here!,,,,,Brian

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