At one of our recent multi-sport workshops, parents got into a discussion about parental behaviour at competition. One of the parents was a football coach for a team of eight year olds, and regularly experienced parents verbally disagreeing with the referee, parents shouting instructions to their child or other people’s children during a match, and parents arguing with each other about the right ‘next move’.
This made me pretty sad and angry. If I was in charge of that football club, I would be giving out sanctions for such behaviour. But when we went on to discuss this, the coach in question agreed that it might help, but you still couldn’t control the behaviour of parents of the opposition, so the behaviour could and probably would continue.
As a parent, it’s really important to remember that seeing your child in a competitive situation where they might not win, or they might make a mistake is a really emotive experience. Emotions run really high, whether you are watching your child in an Olympic final or an U8s football tournament, so preparing for these emotions and what the possible outcome might be is really important. Find out what their chances are so that you are not unduly upset if things don’t seem to be going that well. Also, remembering that making mistakes is how your child is going to learn is important. When I was a coach, I always said to my athletes that,
‘Your best win will come from your worst loss.’
This was invariably true, because the worst loss presented an invaluable opportunity to learn. Embracing mistakes and loss is the way forward, not getting angry about them. Rationally reflecting on how things have gone and making a plan for your child to play to their strengths and work on their weaknesses is empowering for everyone. Getting angry or giving them the silent treatment will help no-one.
I suppose the most important barometer for you as a parent, as to how things are going with your child’s involvement in sport, is whether they are enjoying it. If they, and you, are generally having a negative experience of sport, it’s time to make some changes.
If you are a parent reading this now, and thinking that maybe your behaviour when you watch your child play sport is not all it should be, don’t beat yourself up. Realising that you have made a few mistakes and changing your behaviour is a fantastic example to set to your child. Have a conversation with them about what they want to achieve and how you can best support them, ask them what actions you can take that make them feel good and play better, then you will both be working towards the same goals.
Here’s a short video from some young sports people that describes the effect poor parental behaviour can have on them – let’s try not to be these sorts of parents.