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Parental Uncontrol

Who's really competing in kids' sports?

Parental Uncontrol
June 2013

Everyone's seen it: emotions boiling over during a basketball game, shouting matches on the soccer sidelines or perhaps a ball or even a fist thrown during a fit of rage. And sometimes kids can misbehave, too.

Sadly, it's the parents who can become the most impassioned during a game – and turn a fun match into something ugly. There's a fine line between being your kid's biggest cheerleader, and becoming "that" parent who is pushing too hard, yelling too loud and going too far. How can you keep your emotions in check and set the best example for your young athlete?

Why parents act out

Psychologist Dr. William Hansen says that parents may have to look at their own motivation for having their kids compete in sports. "Are they living through their children on the field? Do they harbor hopes that someday their child will be a professional athlete? Are they fueling or fostering their child's hopes of a potential professional career, and if so, does this get transmitted in their behavior?"

In truth, parents invest a lot of time, energy and resources in their child's sports, which can make them think they have a "right" to push their kids. Hansen says parents should set realistic expectations for themselves and their children. Few kids will make it to the professional level – what's most important are the positive lessons that can be learned by playing sports.

External factors can also play a role in how parents respond on a given day. Are they stressed about work? Did they have a bad day at home with the kids? These stressors, combined with the naturally competitive setting of a game, can create a situation where parents act out.

Crossing the line

The tone and volume of a parent's voice during a game can be the first clue that a problem is escalating. Tod Esquivel, Youth Fitness Trainer and Owner of Indy Fit Kids, says he's seen parents yelling relentlessly at their kids.

The negative effect and distraction this causes a child can be very obvious to other parents, kids and coaches. If you witness this type of behavior from a parent, a gentle comment such "Hey, the kids are playing better today," or "Your son's defense is looking good" may be enough to bring that parent's focus back on the right track.

Esquivel finds that kids often feel pressured by their parents about school, sports and other extracurricular activities, which can lead to stress, anxiety and burnout. "There have been studies showing how pressured this generation is [by their parents] – I've trained kids who were literally crying on each run."

Healthy competition

Hansen recommends that parents remember why their kids are participating in sports in the first place. The parent's job to focus on nurturing and supporting their child – the rest should be left to the child and their coach.

Let your child's coach be the one to critique a backstroke or layup. "Parents should encourage their child and let them express their talent naturally," says Esquivel. Not every kid is going to be a gifted athlete – and that's okay.

It helps to remember that as a parent, you are your child's life coach. As Dr. Hansen says, it's a parent's job to model appropriate behaviors and attitudes – which means learning how to win with distinction, lose with grace.

Tags: In This Issue, Parenting

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