According to research in the Journal of Human Kinetics (Sanchez-Miguel, et al., 2013), the influence of parents or guardians in their child’s participation in sport can be significant in terms of motivation and enjoyment. When parents are supportive and encouraging, the influence will likely be a positive one. If parents are overly pushy or provide undue pressure on the child, the influence is likely to be negative and result in lower levels of enjoyment and increased likelihood of drop out.
One of the biggest challenges for coaches, is knowing how to harness the significant impact parents can have on their children, so that it is positive. In my experience as both a coach and a teacher, I find that challenge is best met through parent education. Research conducted by Holt, Black and Tamminen (2007) found that parents are often oblivious of the impact their behaviour has on their children and their sport participation/enjoyment.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that parents should take an active role in helping their child have a positive sporting experience. A key recommendation in achieving this active role is that parents model respectful spectator behaviour. Holt et al’s research (2007) found that parents understood that they should ‘not coach from the sidelines’. However, for coaches, this is the key discrepancy. In the eyes of the coach, the spectator behavior is not always the same as what the coach deems as ‘respectful’. I find this is because parents often don’t realise their own actions and this is where education comes in.
At the beginning of every new class I teach or session I coach for a new team, I always outline my expectations to the students and players. I relate my expectations to respect and discuss with the students/players why we have these expectations. For example, so that everyone has the chance to learn, time is used effectively and therefore the lesson/session will be more engaging because we don’t have to stopping for people not being respectful. This is the same technique I use for parents at the start of a new season before a match. By setting expectations, parents have an understanding of what respectful behavior looks like and why it is necessary. If parents slip up, we can remind them of the expectations and other parents can help too.
Below is a transcript of what I usually say to parents at the start of the season, something that you could tailor to suit parents in your team. The key is to ensure you deliver the message in an assertive and professional manner, without being condescending.
“Parents, I’ve gathered you here before the game because I want to outline the expectations that the club and I have about your conduct on the sidelines. Just as I have asked the players to display respect in training, I am asking for your respect on game day.
Firstly, and most importantly, I ask that you let your child know you enjoyed watching them play at the end of every match, regardless of score or performance. This is the best way to support your child and help to keep them playing long term.
Secondly, I ask that you respect me in my role as coach and not coaching from the sidelines. What do I mean by that? Any communication that involves actionable language. Basically any verbs such as: shoot, pass, tackle, kick it, press, defend, pressure, etc.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- The kids don’t like it, they find it embarrassing and stressful.
- It sends mixed messages. Before a game, you tell your child “listen to your coach”. The coach then gives them instructions before the game. When the game starts, parents start screaming for them to do the opposite of what the coach has asked.
- Finally, very little effective coaching comes from the sideline. The bulk of player learning will occur at training and game day is the chance for players to apply that learning in the environment that they love. For me, as a coach, I look at game day as the day I assess the players on what they’ve learnt at training. So game day is test conditions. You wouldn’t walk to the side of your child’s classroom during their Mathematics exam and start yelling “subtract. Subtract. SUBTRACT!” So I don’t expect you’ll scream or shout or tell the players what to do here either.”
By outlining my expectations to parents and reasons for them, parents are able to acknowledge what behavior is appropriate and why. This understanding allows for adjustment, because you can refer back to those expectations. Well-meaning as parents might be, it is fair to say that many get so excited that their adrenaline takes over and they start coaching from the sideline without even realising. This is known by psychologist’s as the “righting reflex”, where parents have a strong desire to make things right.
Some parent’s will say just this, that they “get really excited and blurt things out, is there anything I can say?” My response is that in order to role model respectful behavior, parents should keep loud comments about the game simple and positive. Most importantly, they should be about the team and NOT individual players, especially your own son or daughter. For example:
“C’mon [insert team name]”
“Great job [insert team name]”
“Go [insert team name]”
Parents can have a significant influence on their participation in sport. One way of making this a positive influence and ensuring their children enjoy the sport, is by role modelling respectful behavior on the sideline. By educating the parents about this influence, we as coaches, can ensure the sideline is respectful!
Article by Luke Harris
FA Learning (2004). Psychology for football. Hodder Education, UK.
Holt, NL, Black, DE and Tamminen, KA 2007, ‘Rules for parents in youth sport? Opinions of children and their parents’, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 29, pp. S170–2.
Sánchez-Miguel P. A., Leo F. M., Sánchez-Oliva D., Amado D., García-Calvo T. (2013). The importance of parents’ behavior in their children’s enjoyment and amotivation in sports. Journal of Human Kinetics, 36(1), 169–177.