Being the parent of a student-athlete can be a lot of work, but the joys of watching your child cross the finish line or score a winning goal far outweigh the annoyances of hectic practice schedules, carpooling to and from competition venues, and, dare we say it, organizing the team snack. A parent's role in his or her child's high school athletic career can be pivotal, but a parent's action during the often intense moments of a game or match can have lasting effects.
We've all seen or heard the stories of "those parents"—the ones who crossed the proverbial line by starting fights in the stands, harassing other players or threatening the coaches. Those are extreme cases, and of course, you would never behave that way at your child's practice or competition. Or would you? It's easy to get swept up in the emotions of the game, but it's important to keep one thing in mind: it's only a game.
I polled 62 high school athletes to learn what they think are the most annoying and/or inappropriate behaviors exhibited by their parents during competitions. While some seem fairly obvious, a few may surprise you.
Coaching From the Sidelines
This was the number 1 most hated behavior by student-athletes. Sure, it's hard not to get swept up in the momentum of the game, but too many voices telling athletes what to do and not do is confusing and stressful.
"Parents seem to think they know more than they actually do, like when my dad tries to tell me about lacrosse, but has never played," said one varsity lacrosse player.
When parents coach from the sidelines, they erode the authority of the coach. "You're supposed to inspire me to be better, but it's the coach's job to actually make me better," added a JV football player.
Blurring the line between parent and coach should be avoided at all costs.
Yelling at the Coaches/Referees/Judges
"Parents should take into consideration the professionalism of the sport that their child plays, and [know] that a lot is riding on [that child] when [he/she] is in the game. That extra stress is not helpful," said one varsity thrower.
When parents become confrontational with the people in charge of guiding their athlete through a competition, it is extremely embarrassing for the athlete. We expect our kids to respect the game and model good sportsmanship, and there is no better way to teach them than by modeling that desired behavior. If you're upset with a referee's call or a judge's decision, keep in mind that your child most likely feels the same way. Rather than argue what cannot be changed, be there to support your child.
Confronting Coaches About Playing Time
Of course you want to see your student-athlete out on the field, but one of the behaviors athletes hate the most is when their parents confront the coach about putting them in for more playing time. Most coaches try their best to be fair and to give everyone a chance to play. Yes, some kids get more time than others, and that may sting a little, for both you and your student-athlete. Just keep in mind that it's a competition. The coach is making decisions to maximize the team's chances to win.
"You should never confront the coach about playing time. Kids should just focus on getting better," said one varsity golfer.
Comparing Your Child to His/Her Teammates
You would think this would go without saying, but out of the 62 athletes polled, more than half said their parents do this or have done it. Whether your intention is pure or not, telling your athlete you wish he or she was more like or as good as one of his or her teammates is just plain hurtful. Every athlete wishes he or she was better, and they are constantly striving to do their very best.
"You have good days and you have bad days. You're not perfect every day. . . it's all on me," said a varsity golfer. Many student-athletes shut down if they do not feel fully supported by their parents, diminishing their performance, or worse, making them want to quit the sport.
Scolding Your Child in Front of His/Her Teammates
"Parents should not get mad at their student-athletes for things they do in the heat of the moment of the game," said one JV baseball player. If your athlete makes a mistake, trust that both he or she and the coach are aware of it. Pulling your child aside to berate them within earshot of their coaches and peers is a surefire way to embarrass them—most likely to the point where they will no longer listen to you or trust you.
Overly Cheering, Using Noisemakers
Believe it or, student-athletes feel you can get too excited at their competitions. Yes, you're super amped to see your child doing well, but screaming out their name at the top of your lungs during the entire period or quarter is way too much. That's not to say you shouldn't cheer for your athlete, but if you find yourself physically exhausted after every competition, it may be time to rein it in a bit—and leave your cowbell and vuvuzela at home.