The Bad Sport (Parent)

It’s one thing to encourage your child to participate in sports, it’s another to act like the crazed coach of a professional team to a bunch of toddlers. Follow Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips for proper sportsmanlike conduct.

Richie Frieman,
August 20, 2012
Episode #213

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The Bad Sport (Parent)

From baseball, to soccer, to wrestling, to football, to lacrosse – there wasn’t a time in my life when sports didn’t play a large role. Even at the age of 4 or 5, my parents happily took me to whatever sport of the month I wanted to try.  Now as a parent of two, I have to admit that I love watching my 4-year-old kick around a soccer ball or pretend she’s Michael Phelps in the swimming pool. Sports teach kids how to work together and be team players – qualities they can benefit from throughout their adulthood. However, sometimes the parents of young kids don’t quite get the same message. Never mind “There’s no I in Team,” some of these parents seem to adopt a “Win, or else you’re never coming home!” attitude.

I just don’t get the wacky sports parent who treats their elementary school child like they’re in the Super Bowl, or act like the head coach of an NBA team with a bunch of 8-year-olds. It’s highly improper to berate your child for not winning, and expect them to be crowned world champion at the ripe age of 11. So before you tackle the referee for a bad call, or punish your child for not coming in first, take a chill pill, realize you are wrong in every way imaginable, and check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for proper sports parent behavior:

Tip #1: This is NOT the Pros

As I said in my opening sentence, I’ve been participating in sports since before I could even lace up my cleats. And with decades of sports experience under my belt, I’ve witnessed plenty of well-meaning parents take out their emotions on their child athlete. I’m not saying you shouldn’t encourage your child to try harder, or teach them that quitting on the team is bad form, but teaching your toddler or even teenage child that “second place is the first loser” goes against all theories of child development.  Yes, you want to win, but if they don’t win, is it really the end of the world?  When I see a parent pushing their kid around – physically or verbally – it drives me insane. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement, but if your child misses the goal or strikes out – even in the Championship game – they do not need the added pressure and guilt of a parent pointing out their failures in front of a crowd.

Whether it’s Little League or Varsity, 9 times out of 10 the kids are playing sports for fun, or at least that’s how it starts out. Even if another kid on the team has already been recruited by some European soccer league at the age of 8, the majority of the other kids would be happy to win an end-of-the-season trophy.  As a parent, your job is to make sure your child views sports as a fun luxury, rather than as a job. In fact, the more pressure you put on your child, the more likely they are to treat the sport as something they don’t want to do or are afraid to handle. There has to be a balance between encouraging your child to be active, doing their best to excel and pushing them way too hard. And it starts with understanding that, in the end, it’s just a game. So don’t be an agent – be a parent.

Tip #2: Don’t Relive Your Youth Through Your Child

One of the dads at my 4-year-old daughter’s soccer practice treats their once a week practice sessions as a chance to show off his own skills. He steals the ball from his son and taunts him along the way. It is utterly embarrassing to watch. For starters, this dad is incredibly out of shape and doesn’t even play soccer in an adult league. He wasn’t even good growing up! But when you’re 30 years older than the person you’re beating on the field, let’s just say it’s pretty much child’s play at this point. 

This disgrace of a parent rudely runs past his son, kicks the ball from his tiny feet, scores on the miniature goal, and silently fist pumps his “accomplishment.” And when the coach of the team (a highly-skilled soccer player) tries to teach the kids something, this lame parents likes to call out the answers before the other kids could even get a chance. Sad, and highly immature.

A similar situation occurred during the summer Olympics in London. The camera happened to focus on a parent of one Olympian who took Silver in a swimming event. When the swimmer touched the wall only milliseconds after the Gold medalist, this parent looked so pissed off and aggravated, you would have thought their kid just confessed to committing murder. Need I remind you, this is the Olympics! The greatest athletic event in the world! Instead of being a killjoy you should be happy that your child

A) Made the Olympic team

B) Made it through to the finals

C) Has only one other person on the entire planet who is better than them

I remember growing up and playing sports with kids whose parents were stellar athletes. Some pushed their kids harder than others because of their past success, some had more knowledge to contribute due to their previous careers. That’s all fine and good, but trying to relive your youth through your child by making them do as you did (or as you wish you did) is just plain wrong. Take the unmannerly parent from my soccer example; he was not a star athlete but wished he could have been. And now he dribbles around his son, who can’t even tie his own shoes, like he’s David Beckham because it makes him feel better about himself. Remember: Your child does not have to be like you; perhaps they don’t even want to be like you. Your time in the big leagues has come and gone, buddy. It’s time to accept reality and let your kid have his chance. Let your child mold their own image of themselves.