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Tiger Parenting on the Field


Taming the beast within at youth competitions



tiger
May 01, 2011
As a middle-aged couple, my husband and I thought it might be fun to join a co-ed softball league. As it turned out, however, "fun" was not the appropriate term. Besides straining unused muscles I never even knew I had, many of the players on the opposing teams seemed to take the game a little too seriously. Instead of showing up to have fun playing a game, they showed up only to win. In many cases, they didn't just want to win, they wanted to pummel the other team.

Unfortunately, this type of behavior is not just limited to adult sports. Adults acting out at youth athletic competitions is becoming a bigger and bigger problem across the nation. Parents fighting with each other, arguing with officials and coaches, and worse, verbally abusing the young players, are all sadly common occurrences. Many schools and athletic institutions such as the National Alliance for Youth Sports, the National High School Athletic Coaches Association and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation have developed Parent Codes of Conduct, and are even requiring parents to sign an agreement to "behave" at their children's competitions.

"[The fact that] we have parents who are that out of control, should be a warning sign to us." Christine Ogle Erotas R.N., M.S.N., a certified Parenting coach and owner of Work It Out Parent Coaching L.L.C. said. "[Why are we] letting this happen? This behavior is a choice even if we are stressed. People are choosing not to address it or not to get help and other parents are tolerating it. So those should be some real big warning signs to us as a society to get a handle on this."

What makes us roar?

What is it that causes parents to become so emotional when their child is involved in a competitive situation? There can be many contributing factors. For one, parents are obviously emotionally tied to their child's failures and successes. Obviously, everyone wants to see their child do well. We feel their pain, and we also see their failures as our failures as parents. As a result, too much emphasis is placed on performance and results, rather than learning and enjoyment.

We as parents also quickly get our feathers ruffled when we believe our child has been wronged. Therefore, when we see our son fouled during a basketball game or our daughter receive a bad call during her softball game, it's natural to be upset. The important thing to remember is that we are not, in fact, helping our child in any way by screaming and yelling.

"Parents are so involved in their children's lives now-a-days," said Erotas. "Sometimes they are too involved and can find it difficult to separate themselves."

Another contributing factor is based on the parents' own anxieties and anger issues. After a hectic day of work and errands, they are ready to cut loose.

"Many times people come to the games and they're already angry. Many people carry a lot of anger around with them and [the game] can be an outlet where they think it's OK and

that's where they let it all out," Erotas said. The problem occurs when the yelling turns into berating rather than encouragement or cheering.

Sadly, this type of angry belligerence can also be contagious. One loud fan can spur another to act out either for or against him, turning what should be a fun learning experience for a child into a hurtful episode for all.

"It can almost turn into a group bullying thing," Erotas agreed. "Then it can be rather frightening."

The affects on our young cubs

First and foremost as parents, we need to consider the affect our behavior is having on our children. It's obviously a distraction to hear crowd noises, but for a child, it is also upsetting. They can easily become frustrated and confused, at which point the game is no longer fun.

It's most important to remember that the way we act is the way our Kids think they should act. Angry parents produce angry kids and if we handle our stress and frustrations by yelling or fighting, our kids will handle their own frustrations the same way. As parents, we need to model the behavior we expect and desire in our children. Teach them to

handle conflicts and frustrations without hostility.

In addition, children and especially adolescents do not like to be judged. When a parent singles out their child by yelling instructions, advice or corrections, it's not just embarrassing for the child, it can also be traumatic, in essence, driving them away from sports at a time when group activities and social interaction is essential to development.

"By the time they get to high school, the kids drop out because it's not fun and it's turned into a performance thing," says Erotas. "At a time when kids are on the screens too much, texting, doing Facebook or gaming, they need some positive sharing moments with other individuals. They need to be able to play and have fun and run that energy off. If we drive them away from the sports by making it so intolerable, that's only going to hurt the children in the long run."

Taming the beast

When a parent loses control at a youth sporting event, everybody loses. Being a positive role model will make a winner out of both you and your child. When you emphasize to your child that the object of the game is to learn, have fun and do your best, he or she will not feel the pressure to perform. If you feel the need to say something, keep it positive and encouraging. Never ridicule a child for a missed play or mistake.

After a game, make sure you talk with your child about things that may have gone wrong and let them express their opinion. If a child knows he will be lambasted by his parents after the game, his performance anxiety will be even higher. Keep your comments positive and emphasize the learning elements of the game over winning or losing.

Show respect for coaches and officials, as well as members of the opposing team. If conflicts arise, handle them in a calm, adult manner. Insults and threats will not just make things harder for you, they will make things harder for your child as well.

Lastly, don't be a backseat driver. If you are not a coach, don't coach from the stands. Let the officials do their job. Conflicting or additional instructions from the stands only upset and confuse children.

Attending youth competitions can be emotional. What we need to remember is that the game is for the children and not the adults. Emphasize to your child that the game is about fun and learning in a social environment rather than about winning and performance. Just remember to emphasize it to yourself as well.

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Rebecca Todd is a freelance writer and the author of the book "What's the Point?" Contact her at btodd@tds.net.

Tags: In This Issue, Kids, Parenting

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