As parents, we are the first coaches, the biggest fans, and often the unsung heroes for our kids playing sports. If you are wondering how to be a good sports parent, know that the role requires a delicate balance of encouragement, support, and constructive feedback.
In this post, we’ll walk you through 5 essential ways to support your child’s athletic journey with positive parenting.
What makes a good sports parent?
The role of sports parent goes beyond merely being physically present at athletic events. Positive parents foster an environment that promotes teamwork, personal growth, and overcoming adversity.
A good sports parent understands that wins and losses will be forgotten with time – even at competitive levels – but the lessons learned, character built, and relationships formed through sports will last a lifetime.
It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of competition, especially if you are a former athlete; however, consider the true goal of youth sports. A good parent pauses and thinks about if trophies and score sheets are worth it if their children lose the life lessons of:
- Overcoming difficult situations
- Putting forth maximum effort toward a goal
- Finding joy in something they love to do
Examples of negative parental involvement in sports
Well-intended parents can negatively impact childhood sports experiences. Here are some examples of what not to do as a sports parent.
- Ignoring or minimizing injuries: Sometimes parents do not pay enough attention to their children’s injuries. Making them play through an injury can result in more damage.
- Failing to promote balance: Some parents focus too much on sports and not enough on rest, unstructured play, schoolwork, and spending time with loved ones.
- Overemphasis on winning: There are parents who care more about winning than building life skills and having fun, which can take away the joy of sports for kids.
- Constant comparison to others: Comparing your child’s athletic abilities to others can hurt their self-esteem and decrease their love for the sport.
- Disruptive behavior during athletic events: Sometimes parents argue with coaches, officials, or other parents, making it hard for the kids to focus on playing the game and having fun.
- Overinvolvement: There are parents who get too involved in sports and take away opportunities for kids to build decision-making skills and autonomy.
- Public humiliation: Some parents embarrass or make fun of their child in front of others, like teammates or coaches, causing shame.
- Neglecting emotional well-being: Sometimes parents only focus on the physical part of athletics and forget how important a child’s social-emotional development is during the sports journey.
- Excessive pressure and high expectations: There are parents who expect their children to be perfect and put a lot of pressure on them to do well in sports. This increases stress and decreases fun for kids when they do not measure up.
- Lack of support or attendance: When parents do not go to their child’s games or practices (or find alternative ways to support them), they may not feel valued.
- Undermining the coach’s authority: This type of parental behavior can cause fear, confusion, and problems for their children and their teammates.
- Living vicariously through the child: Some parents want their child to do a particular sport because of their own childhood opportunities (or lack thereof). This undermines children’s autonomy in pursuing their own interests and dreams.
How to Be a Good Sports Parent with 5 Key Steps
#1. Be supportive.
Being a supportive parent means being fully present (physically and emotionally) for your kids. Cheer your children on without being overbearing, and celebrate their achievements.
Find the positive and reassure your kids your love and admiration are unrelated to wins or their performance – it’s unconditional.
In addition, encourage your children to try their best and be great teammates. Console them during defeats and at their low points. Remind them there is more to life than sports and more to them than being an athlete.
#2. Avoid placing too much importance on winning.
Winning can and should be celebrated but avoid placing too much of an emphasis on it. As great sports parents, we understand that long-term, a trophy is not what matters most. Too often – in all areas of life – we reward the result instead of the process that led to it.
Even in wins, focus on recognizing the effort, the teamwork, and the progress made to get to that point. Celebrate the hard work that got them there.
#3. Be a great role model.
Our behaviors, attitude, and reactions are easily mirrored by our kids – even subconsciously.
No matter how into a competition you may get personally, demonstrate good sportsmanship by modeling respect for officials, coaches, and other players. Handle victories and defeats with grace – even in private. Avoid blaming (often young) officials for a loss or harping on volunteer coaches.
In addition, model a healthy lifestyle for your kids to mirror. This includes physical activity, healthy eating habits, and a positive mindset.
#4. Respect your child’s coach.
Coaches play a pivotal role in your child’s athletic development. Leaving the coaching to the coach can be difficult, particularly for parents who were former athletes themselves.
It is important not to undermine the coach, especially in front of other parents or players. If you have something you need to address with the coach, do it in a private setting without any hostility.
Encouraging your child to communicate directly with the coach can help to improve their independence, self-confidence, and communication. These skills will serve them beyond sports.
#5. Focus on fun and development.
At the heart of youth sports should be enjoyment and personal growth. Encourage your child to have fun, make friends, and enjoy the experience of playing, independent of the outcome.
A good sports parent also emphasizes skill development over winning. They appreciate the learning process, the incremental improvements, and the mastery of skills.
This focus shifts the narrative from being the best to becoming better. Fostering a growth mindset can positively impact all areas of your child’s life.
The last thing you need to know about how to support your child in sports
Being a good sports parent is much more than supporting your child’s athletics. Nurturing their love of sports will also teach them invaluable life lessons along the way.
Support your child by being there through the highs and lows. Focus on the effort and enjoyment side of the sport instead of the results.
The goal for our kids is not to raise a superstar pro athlete – the odds of that are literally about the same as being struck by lightning. Make your goal to raise a confident child who values and understands teamwork, discipline, and sportsmanship.
Enjoy the journey, and cherish all the memories you make with your kids along the way!
Chad Montgomery, Guest Author
Chad is a dad of 3 boys from Vancouver, BC where he lives with his wonderful wife Chelsea. From their experiences in parenthood, they’ve started Parent Intel, to share what they’ve learned and wish they had learned earlier with other parents around the world.