The Do’s & Don’ts of Being a “Good Sport” Parent: How to Support Your Kids in Sports

We’ve all heard about it, or witnessed it ourselves. Some of us are even guilty of it; overzealous parents who go from supportive to crazy with one controversial call from a referee or questionable decision by a coach. Good parents, gone bad. In countless articles people talk about how parents are trying to relive unfulfilled sports dreams through their children, however, I don’t think that is the case. I think parents want what is best for their kids and often don’t realize that their actions are doing the exact opposite.

The increase in opportunities for children to participate in sport has also created an interest among parents, coaches, and sport psychology professionals to look at how we can best support children in sport. Here are some tips for those of you who either have a child in sport or are preparing for opening day!

The DO’S:

Help your child set goals.

Helping your child to set appropriate goals teaches them how to focus on the aspects of the game that are in their control. Ask your child what they would like to accomplish and what skills would they like to improve. If your child chooses the goal they want to accomplish it will help them to take pride and ownership over their goal. Also help your child chart their progress so they can see how their hard work is helping them to improve their skills.

Help your child define success.

Kids need to know that they are valued and accepted no matter how they perform. If your child feels secure that their worth is not solely based on how they perform, they will have more energy to respond to challenges and take the risks they need in order to learn their sport. When kids are only focused on the outcome of the game, they often get nervous and don’t play as well as they would if they were focused on their own performance. If you help your child relieve this pressure, then they are more likely to be relaxed, have fun, and perform better. Instead of asking your child “Did you win?” try these questions instead:

  • What did you do well?
  • How did you work on your goals today?
  • What was your favorite part of the game?
  • What was the hardest part of the game?
  • What did you learn?
  • Did you have fun!?

Let them make mistakes.

Unfortunately, mistakes get a bad rap because of the negative connotation we have placed on them. Sometimes kids are so afraid to make a mistake that they become paralyzed with fear, which is extremely detrimental to learning and improving performance. The fear of making mistakes keeps us from trying new things, pushing ourselves harder, and having fun. Let your child know that making mistakes is part of learning.

The DON’TS:

Specialize too early.

These days with the opportunity for kids to play year-round sports, parents often feel pressure to specialize at a very early age. It is important for parents to know that more isn’t always better. Young kids should be allowed to try different sports. By allowing your young child to play a variety sports, they will develop a wider range of motor skills, be less likely to develop an overuse injury, and less likely to burn out on their sport at an early age. Tiger Woods participated in baseball, basketball, cross-country, and track in addition to golf! Later, if your child does choose to specialize, they will be more motivated and committed to their sport because they have chosen a sport they are passionate about.

Give feedback during a game.

Watching your child play sports can be an emotional roller-coaster. Parents need to develop their own set of guidelines for appropriate behavior during a game. Make sure your verbal and nonverbal communication is positive, especially during games. Game time is not a good time for giving feedback to coaches or referees. It is also never appropriate to yell at coaching staff or officials. This embarrasses your child and is the quickest way to make them want to drop out of their sport. It is also important not to coach your child during a game. When you do this, you are forcing your child into the horrible position of either disobeying their parents or their coach. Remember to praise effort and attitude as well as performance.

Lose sight of what is important.

Millions of children participate in sports and only 1-2% will get a scholarship. Great athletes don’t get scholarships and most children don’t go on to become elite athletes. The #1 reason boys and girls play sports is to have fun and one of the top reasons kids drop out of sports is because they are no longer having fun!! Children and parents need to balance sport with other interests. Parents and families can burnout too. Spending time with your child pursuing other interests lets them know that you love and value them outside of their sport and can help prevent EVERYONE from burning out on sports!

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