Before the Fall Season Starts: The Do’s and Dont’s of Being a Sports Parent

As the air gets colder, the heat of competition starts to rise as fall sports are just around the corner. 

As players get motivated for the upcoming season, your preparation as a sports parent should focus on being a proud spectator, rather than a coach. 

Soccer Dad – Picture by Chicago Tribune

If you’re not looking to get labeled as this season’s Crazy Sports Parents of the Year or increase your search rankings on Youtube as one of those parents ruining youth sports, then this list below is your pre-season checklist. Stick to the list.

What Not To Do:  

Let’s first focus on what sports parents should avoid while on the sidelines:

1. Don’t be a sideline coach: 

Unless you’re literally the coach of your child’s team, let the coaches do their thing and you do yours—whatever that may be (bringing snacks for halftime is always a great fallback). If you do have some advice for your child and that sport really is your forté, wait until the game is long over or if you decide to do some one-on-one training with your child on the side.

This doesn’t mean you can’t help—if there was a way to use my expertise in soccer to help out my kid on the field, you know very well that I’m going to do it—I’m just going to wait for the opportune moment to do so.

Talking over your coach or negating what she or he says (constantly) while coaching your child will send the wrong message to your kid and will make it seem like you don’t support the coach or what they’re teaching.

2. Don’t live vicariously through your kids:

No matter how devastating your own sports career ended, parents obsessed with children’s sports never come out on top. Accept who your child is—what their goals, their likes, dislikes, talents, and choices are—and don’t expect them to follow in your footsteps.

If you’re living vicariously through your child, you may also feel like their success means your success. However, they are NOT responsible for your ego, so don’t give them that pressure.

There is also a fine line between encouraging your kids and pushing them too far. Not only is there the possibility that you push them beyond what they’re capable of at the moment (which can affect their self-confidence and their relationship with you), but it can also push them away from that sport or sports altogether. 

At the end of the day, let your kid be a kid. 

Whether they’ve made a mistake during a performance, lost a game, or simply are just bad at that sport, it’s important that you don’t treat your child differently after a win or a loss or even after an individual mistake. 

3. Don’t lose control of your emotions:

It’s easy to get heated during sports—especially when you have a personal connection to the game (aka, your own flesh and blood is out there)! However, it’s important that you set a good example for your kid, other parents, and other kids around. 

No matter how bad the call, the foul, the ref, the team or even the coach is, do your best to not lose control over your emotions. 

These outbursts not only point blame at others—which doesn’t set a good example for taking responsibility and accountability—but it also doesn’t show good sportsmanship. 

What To Do:

Parents and sports don’t always have to trigger bad feelings. 

Here are some do’s to help you knock one out of the park when it comes to being the best sports parent. 

1. Be as encouraging as you possibly can:

Although nobody wants to be that parent that has no idea about sports and thinks that every game was a good game, there’s nothing wrong with being encouraging—especially when your kids are still young. 

It can be a tough balance to dial your intensity a few notches back. However, this balance can be important for your child’s growth—in athletics and in life.

You should also let them make their own decisions. Even though while they’re still young, you could encourage them to try multiple sports (not just your faves), how they feel about a sport should be the final word. You can provide as much opportunity as possible and encourage them in the right way—but if they play or not should be their choice.

2. Respect authority figures, the game, and your own kid:

That’s right—your child and their growth and development need your respect. They might not advance as quickly as you want them to—respect their process. 

Be sure to set good examples when it comes to the referee/umpire, other teams’ parents, and the coaches. Having a positive attitude helps, no matter what the situation is, and not letting your emotions get the best of you. When you’re positive and cheering for both the stars, as well as the not-so-great players, your child will be watching. That can be the opportunity for them to follow suit. 

3. Focus on being more sportsmanlike than competitive:

Although your child should strive for goals as a young athlete—teaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them—you should focus more on developing their character on (and off) the field. 

Skills and ability will come—natural talent isn’t something that can be learned—but how your child approaches teamwork, sportsmanship, and respect for the game (and all of its authority figures), need to be ingrained from the get-go. 

4. Stay focused on what’s important:

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the moment, in the league, and during a game. However, you need to remember: you’re a parent first, fan second. 

If you need something to focus on, it should be on your kid’s enjoyment and development. Period.

Sports can teach valuable life lessons and shape a person’s character—from learning that it’s okay to make mistakes to teaching a child how to be a leader and a team player, from how to control their emotions to how to work on both their strengths and weaknesses. 

You need to focus on how your child is developing rather than how their team is doing on the table. 

Especially if your child is really good, it can be hard to not make their whole life about sports—however, it’s important that they not only identify as an athlete, but also an all-encompassing person. 

5. Lastly, make it fun!

In general, sports can be a means to an end—a full scholarship to a great college, a professional career or even her or his way into a great school right now. However, your kid is only going to be a kid for so long. 

Your child may be playing at a highly competitive level—this can make it difficult for them to not be so negative when they make a mistake. 

However, they need to know that no athlete is perfect. Making sure that you encourage positive thinking, self-esteem, and constructive—rather than negative—criticism is important to keep sports enjoyable. 

The Takeaway

Before the fall season begins, get your head in the game—or get out of it, really. Although it may be difficult keeping your distance when it comes to being the best soccer parents, getting entangled in a heated brawl with your six-year-old’s volunteer coach isn’t going to make the field an environment where your child (and the rest of the team) can grow.

I hope this article has helped you become the best sports parent you can be and develop your young athlete to her or his full potential—both on and off the field.

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