Coaching the Coach

Parents intervening in children’s team sports

I officially became a “soccer mom” last year when my eight-year-old daughter joined her local soccer team. On a traveling soccer team, you witness many games besides your own and a variety of teams, and I’ve been shocked to witness parents shouting aggressively at coaches…and even other children.

In Braintree, Massachusetts, a girls’ high school basketball coach quit due to parent complaints. The coach helped bring the team two back-to-back Division 1 state championships and had a 63 game winning streak, yet the parents were still dissatisfied. Research at the University of Maryland found 53% of parents reported feeling angry during their child’s soccer game. How is it that so many parents find a children’s sport stressful?

Online interactions:

In Braintree, the parents created an email exchange complaining about their child’s playing time, and the coach became tired of dealing with parent complaints. Studies found people tend to bully online since they are not held accountable.

High college costs: According to College Data, public college tuition can cost an average of $24,610 per year, and a private college averages $49,320. Parents want–or need–their child to receive a scholarship. The pressure of winning a scholarship from playing a sport has created parents who either have unrealistic expectations or become upset when their child isn’t receiving optimal playing time.

High cost of sports: Participation in sports can be expensive. Players are required to purchase sports gear and oftentimes pay a fee for being on a team, even in public schools. According to research done by the University of Michigan Health System, on average, a player pays a $125 participation fee and $275 for sports equipment and travel. Parents, having made that investment, feel entitled to playing time, and when that isn’t the case, turmoil erupts.

Parent personality: Research by Goldstein found control-oriented parents are more aggressive during their child’s sporting events than autonomy-oriented parents. A control-oriented parent is concerned about other people’s opinions and motivated by external forces, whereas an autonomy-oriented parent is driven by their own goals. During games, the control-oriented parent tends to take things personally. If a coach pulls his/her child from the game, the parent can feel it’s a personal attack against his/her child rather than an impartial decision by the coach.

Parents vicariously living through their child:

Parents often relive their childhood experiences through their children. Research by Brummelman found parents who see themselves in their child want their child to attain their unfulfilled ambitions. This can cause parents to pressure their child to succeed and to become angry when their child makes mistakes during the game.

What can you do?

If a parent complains about the coach, encourage the parent to discuss it directly with the coach.

  • Be respectful of the coach, teammates and other parents.
  • Offer to assist with practices or communication with parents.
  • Praise the coach when he/she is doing a good job.
  • Show gratitude to the coach. A simple thank you can mean a lot.

Parent Reminders:

  • Most coaches volunteer or are paid a small stipend; they’re not in it for the money.
  • When you are on the sidelines, refrain from criticizing the coach or players. Be supportive!
  • If you have an issue with another parent or coach, speak to the person directly and avoid using social media to air your grievances.
  • Before speaking to the coach, allow yourself time to calm down by waiting 24 hours after the incident. Also, schedule a time to meet with the coach instead of trying to speak with the coach after the game.
  • Try to put things in perspective and remind yourself this game is for your child, not you.
  • When you get angry at the coach, you are ultimately hurting your child by causing embarrassment and resentment.
  • Research by Omli & Wiese-Bjornstal found kids prefer supportive parents rather than angry ones at sporting events.
  • A coach tries to make decisions based on what is best for the team, not just your child.
  • When you tell your child what to do from the sideline, you are implying they don’t know how to play the game.
  • Practice calming techniques when upset, such as deep, controlled breathing.

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