From harmful to helpful – 8 ways to be a positive and winning sports parent

From harmful to helpful – 8 ways to be a positive and winning sports parent

Without a shadow of a doubt many parents are well intentioned when it comes to being a sports parent and merely out of love are doing what they believe is best for their child.  Many follow methods based on the environment that they see before them, whilst many behave in the way that they perhaps saw their own parents behave towards their sport.  Some perhaps use strategies that coaches used with them.

As time is moving on we now have far more scientific data than ever before to back up or indeed change any of the methods that we may be or considering using as a sports parent.  This article was inspired by Dr Jennifer Fraser author of Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom  and Dr Marilyn Price-Mitchell who wrote about the role sports coaches have to play in a similar way.

Below we look at 8 ways for you to become an outstanding sporting parent.


Curiosity is the ability to seek and acquire new knowledge, skills, and ways of understanding the world.
To become a high-performing athlete, a player must be in constant search for new skills and knowledge
of the sport.
Curiosity is often crushed when a parent uses a demeaning style, using questions like, ”What did you do that for?’, ‘Do you really want to be here?’

This angry, humiliating approach to an athlete limits motivation and discovery. It makes failure shameful
rather than an opportunity to learn, diminishing an athlete’s sense of self. Rhetorical questions, when
used to scold, reinforce the idea that parents have all the right answers and that children have no voice
in solutions.

A positive parenting approach:
Curiosity is developed when a sports parent helps young children recognise failure as an opportunity for
new discovery.
“I know this was a disappointing defeat for you, but I have faith in your abilities.” “What did you learn?”
“How might you approach things differently next time?”
When parents praise children for their effort and encourage new learning, positive parenting occurs.


Sociability is defined by Price-Mitchell as the “joyful, cooperative ability to engage with others.” Children
learn to happily engage with teammates when encouraged to express feelings and behaviours that
facilitate positive relationships.
If parents constantly criticise other sporting parents, coaches and other players it weakens a child’s ability to develop positive social skills.

When negative emotions like disgust and anger are infused in communications children they learn to
normalise this behavior in other parts of their lives. Being exposed to this interpersonal climate can
dismantle a child’s ability to make lasting relationships.

A positive parenting approach:

Parents need to communicate well with their children using questions like the ones below.  This helps break down barriers and encourages a constant, positive sharing of important information.

“I want to understand you.” “Tell me how you feel.” “How can I give you feedback that will help you


Resilience is the ability that helps children bounce back from disappointment and defeat. It’s an ability,
often learned through sport, that influences a young person’s efforts to meet and overcome challenges
in all aspects of life.

Some parents believe that grit, resilience, and toughness are transmitted to children by coaches and other
parents who yell at or berate them.
This method of building resilience has the reverse effect on kids. Rather than helping this child learn
to meet and overcome a challenge, the coach and parent has  likely eroded the player’s confidence through shaming
and caused emotional trauma.

A positive parenting approach:
Resilience is fostered when a sports parent gently pushes children to the edges of their intellectual,
emotional, social, and physical comfort zones. The method is a balance of support and encouragement
through difficult challenges and obstacles.

Parents need to let children know that they are there for them and are ready to chat.
When parents get to know kids’ individual boundaries and fears, they can help push them to the edges
of those boundaries and beyond. Developmentally, this balance between understanding oneself and
stepping into the unknown is at the core of resilience.

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Self-awareness develops in young people when they learn to examine and understand who they are
relative to the world around them. This ability evolves through self-reflection, meaning-making, and the
process of honing core values and beliefs.
Parents must have real belief in their sporting children.   Not based on comparing their child’s abilities with others or indeed defining their own child’s identity based on their sporting prowess.

A positive parenting approach:

Specific feedback about performance helps boost self-awareness. Positive words translate into
optimism and self-belief.

Children understand that specific feedback helps them learn about themselves. When they are
encouraged to reflect on their performance, they most often take responsibility to improve. They grow
to understand their strengths and weaknesses.


Integrity is the ability to act in ways consistent with one’s values and moral principles. Sports have the
potential to teach children many positive values, like respect, fairness, cooperation, sportsmanship,
responsibility, and humility.

In their desire to win at all costs, some parents do not model integrity to their children.
Research shows that seven out of ten kids quit sports at the age of thirteen because the sport was no
longer “fun” (Dilworth, 2015).  Poor touchline behaviour including dismissive body language, abuse of officials, turning away when their child is looking for a reassuring glance are all examples.

A positive parenting approach:

Modeling integrity doesn’t mean that discipline gets thrown out the window. In fact, discipline is key to
success in any sport.

Parents can  teach integrity by treating children with respect and dignity, and listening to their feelings and
concerns without judgement. Parents also foster integrity when they praise their young children for
demonstrating and living their own values.


Resourcefulness is the ability to achieve goals, problem-solve, and shape the future. These are essential
skills necessary to win at sports and become successful in life.

A positive parenting approach:

Parents foster resourcefulness by challenging their children to set high expectations for themselves and then
supporting them to accomplish their goals. Asking questions like, “What are your goals for this season?”
“What do you think will be the most challenging for you?” helps young people see that planning and
problem-solving will lead to success.

When a sports parent lets go of perfectionism, success usually follows. Studies show that perfectionist
attitudes by parents interfere with a child’s ability to become resourceful. Instead, parents
should focus on helping kids be flexible and strategic.
“Let’s think of five strategies that could work in this situation.” “Is this a realistic goal? Why or why not?”
“What is the worst thing that could happen? What would we learn if it did?”

Creativity is about thinking outside the box and taking risks to discover how to do things better. It’s an
ability needed to improve in any endeavour, and to surprise an opponent with a new twist on an old methods.

A positive parenting approach:
When a sports parent notices and praises young athletes for thinking outside the box and taking risks,
creativity is nurtured. New possibilities emerge.
One approach that encourages young people to be creative is called “possibility thinking.” When a parent
poses the question, “What if?” in as many ways as possible, children naturally think of possibilities. This
involves a shift from the more traditional parenting approach that provides kids with the “correct”
answers or encourages them to ask, “How do I do this?” or “What should I do?”

Empathy is the ability to recognise, feel, and respond to the needs and suffering of others. It is about being
caring and compassionate as well as being kind and patient with progress.
Parents who use negative, tough-minded styles develop sporting relationships with their children based on fear, not

A positive parenting approach:
A sports parent influences young athletes’ ability to care for others beyond themselves by creating
meaningful relationships with them—by ensuring the child is seen, heard, and understood.

When parents lead with empathy, they instill compassion and kindness in their children. They keep their
children emotionally and physically healthy by listening to their words and feeling their suffering.

Educational psychologist, Dr. Michele Borba, suggests telling kids: “Empathy can be increased with
practice just like your muscles stretch with exercise….The more you practice, the better you’ll be at
understanding another’s thoughts and feelings.”

The End Game
Every sports parent, coach and child want their teams to win. And winning is often seen as the “end
game.” But is it, really?

What if we thought of the end game as developing happy, healthy, and successful young people?  What would we do
differently? What are the possibilities?

Well they are endless…………lets hope over the coming years that we are writing about the many great things going on to give the game back to the children.


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