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Today's Family Magazine

The Best Way to Support Your Kid's Coach? Let Them Do Their Job!

By Cheryl Maguire

I officially became a “soccer mom” last year when my 8-year-old daughter enrolled in the town soccer team.  She loves playing the sport and interacting with the other girls on her team.  Being part of the team has entailed traveling to other towns. Sometimes we have witnessed other games in progress while waiting for her game to begin.  I’ve been shocked to see parents yelling in an aggressive manner at either the kids or the coach.

In Braintree, Massachusetts a girl’s basketball high school coach quit due to parent complaints.  The coach helped bring the team two back-to-back Division 1 state championships and had a 63 game winning streak, yet the parents were still dissatisfied.
Research at the University of Maryland found 53% of parents reported feeling angry during their child’s soccer game.  This is an issue in many towns across America caused by various factors.

Social media: 
In Braintree, the parents created an email exchange complaining about their child’s playing time.  The coach became tired of dealing with the parent complaints resulting in her resignation.  Studies found people tend to bully online since they are not held accountable. Social media and email messages lack a person’s tone or body language causing miscommunication.  Also if a person sends an angry message, the person receiving the message can read it over and over again resulting in hurt feelings.

High college costs: 
According to College Data, a public college tuition can cost an average of $24,610 per year and a private college averaged $49,320.  With the high costs of colleges, parents want or need their child to receive scholarships.  The pressure of winning a scholarship from playing a sport has created parents who either have unrealistic expectations or become angry when their child isn’t participating.

High cost of sports:
  Participation in sports can be expensive.  Players are required to purchase sports gear and usually pay a fee for being on a team, even in public schools.  According to research at University of Michigan Health System on average a player had to pay a $125 participation fee and $275 for sports equipment and travel.
Thirty years ago when a child played baseball often the team shared a helmet and bat.  Now most players have two bats, their own helmet, batting gloves and a baseball bag. When a parent pays these high costs, they feel they should be getting their money’s worth and when their child doesn’t play, they get angry at the coach.

Parent personality:
  Research by Goldstein, found control-oriented parents are more angry and aggressive during their child’s sporting events than autonomy-oriented parents.  A control-oriented parent is a person who is concerned about other people’s opinions and motivated by external forces whereas an autonomy-oriented parent is driven by their own goals.   During games the control-oriented parent tends to take things personally.  For example if a coach pulls their child from the game, this type of parent may feel it is a personal attack against their child rather than an impartial decision by the coach.

Parents vicariously living through their child: 
Often parents relive their childhood experiences through their children.  If a parent was unsuccessful at a sport and their child excels in this sport they might experience the feeling of success they never could as a child.  Research by Brummelman found parents who see themselves in their child want their child to fulfill their unfulfilled ambitions.  This may cause parents to pressure their child to succeed and parents to become angry when their child makes mistakes during the game. If the parent feels their child isn’t getting enough play time they may become angry at the coach as was the case with the Braintree coach.

Unrealistic parent expectations:
  Parents can hold unrealistic expectations about their child’s abilities while playing sports.  A parent may consider their child to be the best on the team or think their child will be a professional athlete one day.  This viewpoint can cause conflicts between the parent and coach. 

Parent reminders

  • Most coaches volunteer or are paid a small stipend.  The coach is usually interested in helping your child and their team have a positive experience.
  • When you are on the sidelines refrain from criticizing the coach or players. Your role should be to support the team.
  • If you have an issue with another parent or coach, speak to the person directly about it and refrain from using social media to air your grievances.
  • Before speaking to the coach allow yourself time to calm down by waiting 24 hours after the incident.  Also schedule a time to meet with the coach instead of trying to speak with the coach after the game.
  • Playing on a sports team should be a fun experience for your child and the coach.
  • Try to put things in perspective and remind yourself this game is for your child — not you.
  • When you get angry at the coach you are ultimately hurting your child by causing embarrassment and resentment.  Research by Omli & Wiese-Bjornstal found kids prefer supportive parents rather than angry ones at sporting events.
  • There is no “I” in team.  A coach tries to make decisions based on what is best for the team — not only your child.
  • When you tell your child what to do from the sideline, you are implying they don’t know how to play the game.
  • If you tend to get angry easily, practice anger management techniques such as deep breathing, or counting to 10.
What can you do to prevent your coach from quitting?
  • If a parent complains to you about the coach, encourage the parent to discuss it directly with the coach.
  • Be respectful of the coach.
  • Offer to assist or help out with practices or communication with parents.
  • Praise the coach when he/she is doing a good job.
  • Show gratitude for the coach.  A simple “thank you” can mean a lot.
Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree.  She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter.