Research shows parents’ aggressive behavior on the sidelines is embarrassing to young athletes, making them lose confidence and even quit the sport.
In a recent high school basketball game one young star player repeatedly complained to the referees that his opponent was hanging onto him and fouling him and at one point asked the referees to, “Keep that kid off me.” They ignored they request. And, when the star took a forearm to the throat, that was enough. Several lightening blows to the offenders face put him on the floor. When he struggled to his feet and attacked the star, the star’s 12-year old brother came out of the stands and landed a few punches that caused the attacker to have second thoughts about continuing the fracas. As the 12-year old explained, “I was just helping my brother.”
The aftermath was that both players were benched by their coaches, but some adults in the stands were threatening the 12-year old to the point that he and his father needed a police escort out of the gym.
In most sports activities, fathers are behind their kids and many are willing to help in any way they can. But, all too often parents (mothers, too) are aggressively living their sporting fantasies through their kids and exhibit what researchers call the Ugly Parent Syndrome or Parent Rage.
In Australia, Flinders University has done research on this subject and has determined that parents' behavior had a profound impact on their child's participation in sports, both good and bad.
The report said parents' verbal behavior towards children, officials and coaches, which is quite common, can be problematic and there is a clear emphasis on performance, playing well and, for some parents, winning. For some parents, it's much more serious than having fun or participating and they lose sight of the fact that it’s just kids.
Some parents are prone to providing excessive instruction and putting down their child in front of others, coaching from the sidelines and verbally harassing their child. The research found that children did not prosper under these conditions and they lose motivation, which resulted in immediate or future disengagement from sports.
I remember being at a chess tournament and seeing a mother shaking her daughter who looked to be 8 or 10 years old by the shoulder and screaming at her for losing because she did not play the opening the way her mother had told her. The poor girl was sobbing uncontrollably. The whole incident was disgusting.
For kids, parents’ behavior can result in physical ailments ranging from headaches to stomach aches and muscle pains and psychological disturbances typically including emotional volatility, prolonged depression and a lowering of self-esteem.
It's hard for me to grasp a situation where a 12-year old kid needed a police escort from the gym because he was being threatened and harassed by adults for what was basically a fight between kids...something we all had in our youth.