Identifying different characteristics of youth sport parents​

Credit: Wall Street Journal

As coaches, we tend to stand on opposite sides of the field to parents and family members, as we observe the young players enjoy the beautiful game. There must be a level of trust between the coach, parents, and player, where everyone understands their role and responsibilities when the player participates. Participation is an opportunity for learning and development where children can fall in love with the sport and more friends. Within many youth sports environments, I continue to observe coaches and parents continuously yelling, screaming and trying to interfere and attempting to control the players whilst a child is directly involved in the game and learning. Coaching required well-timed interventions well-timed for the information given to be absorbed, understood and digested by players i.e. ball out of play, or during the breaks. Such an approach is only hindering a child’s learning, and development and slowly decreasing their enjoyment of the game. Parents and coaches keep telling me that players need direction or “coaching”, however firstly parents shouldn’t be coaching, if they want to coach they should be on the other side with the coach. Secondly, coaching isn’t controlling and continuously yelling.

Parents and coaches keep telling me that players need direction or “coaching”, however firstly parents shouldn’t be coaching, if they want to coach they should be on the other side with the coach. Secondly, coaching isn’t controlling and continuously yelling, coaching interventions need to be well-timed for the information given to be absorbed, understood and digested by players. As children continue to participate in the game, we can observe and identify different characteristics of youth sports parents. Parent behaviours can be a source of either support or stress to young athletes (Côté and Hay 2001).  In such situations, I tend to ask myself “If an adult is infused from observing the game, yet distracted by approaches and behaviours from the opposite sideline, how can a young child deal, participate and learn under such conditions?

Young people are too frequently looked upon as problems waiting to be solved, however, young people are understood to embody potential, awaiting development (Positive Youth Development Through Sport, 2008).  The problem surrounding youth sports parents exists due to the lack of patience concerning development and the necessity for instant success, the comparison between youth and the elite game and the education/support given to them. Some youth sports parents have their set beliefs that have stemmed from past experiences (Directly or indirectly).  Discussing the matter in greater depth with parents concerning how they view youth sports, but more importantly how their parents viewed sports, you then begin to unravel how also why they act and behave in a certain way on the sideline.

Sports, in general, have evolved massively since parents of children now participate in sports today. We as coaches, spectators and parents must learn from the past and embrace the current and future approaches to the game and continue to learn.  The role of the modern coach is far broader than simply coaching. To enhance the sporting experience for the child coaches much positively collaborate with parents (Mechanick, & Gould, 2013). Dispute the evidence that 70% of kids quit organized youth sports by the age of 13 with 9 out of 10 children stating they were no longer having fun (Changing The Game Project). We continue to hear about intrusive and over-bearing parents.

As you can imagine some over-bearing parents can be easily identifiable by their body language, vocally very critical of the player, team and/or coach etc.  In contrast, other youth sports parents are more discrete in their approach, some may even appear disinterested.

Below is a list of the most common characteristics of youth sports parents that have a greater influence on young athletes:

  • Disinterested

Notably, those disinterested parents rarely attend practices or games or show any great passion and enthusiasm surrounding the participation of their child in a certain sport.  We’ve all participated and executed a skill, save, pass and/or shot and immediately look at loved ones for support and smiled when we saw a “Thumbs up”. Imagine how an individual feels when they don’t have anyone on the sideline… Coaches must understand there could be multiple reasons WHY parents seemingly appear disinterested. For example, work, sickness, financial complications, conflicts, unaware of the benefits and value of parental involvement. Coaches should calmly inquire about the parent(s) lack of involvement in their child’s sporting activities, it’s important to reiterate we should never approach parents aggressively, presumptuous or negatively.  We should highlight the parent(s) role within the sporting organization and provide positive benefits of their contribution not only to the team as a whole but to their own child’s level of enjoyment.

  • Over-critical

Identifying over-critical youth sports parents can be deceptive at times, a high percentage of parents don’t want to embarrass themselves or their child, by vocally criticizing anyone in public. They will remain silent on the sideline, then begin to critique the child individually after the game e.g. walking from the field, the ride home, at home These “over-critical publically silent” youth sports parents are very hard to identify.  Personally, there are two ways to identify these silent over-critical parents (s), players will try and burden the pressure and comments made by the parents, they then begin to display this in a number of ways as they play with a fear of disappointment and consistently look to the sideline for reassurance.  In contrast, coaches can easily identify the extreme opposite of over-critical youth sports parents as they vocally share their frustrations and a loft with everyone whilst the game is underway. These types of parents provide us with the impression that it’s “their” game, and when the young athlete fails they do.  Young children rely more on adult feedback (Weiss, 2003), parents take the opportunity to provide praise and encouragement, not criticism.

  • Sideline Coaching

I’ve encountered two different types of sideline coaching, 1) the parent offers coaching advice to the whole team 2) individual coaching suggestions to their own child. Coaches should firstly appreciate that the parent, whole-hearty wants the best for the team and for their child.  The latter is where the problem is associated with, whether success is very often defined differently or how is success defined in youth sports?  The problem arises when the parent(s) instructions are more or less contradicting the coaches and causing confusion.  Parents have several opportunities to provide immediate and specific feedback to their children, however, some parents fail to comprehend this provides them with a greater opportunity to positively influence children’s enjoyment of sport and self-concept development.


Parents that actively take an interest in the child’s level of participation and enjoyment within certain sports. Don’t apply any unnecessary pressure on the child to perform or win, they simply want them to have fun and enjoy the game. As the child progresses through the age groups and players begin to “learn to win” parents can motivate and ask players what is required in terms of effort and character in order to win. Parents remain positive on the sideline and simply offer encouragement to the player, team and coach. Doesn’t get too emotionally involved in the game and listens and also asks questions for players to self-analyse the practice or game. Finally, parents collaborate with the coach in order to find the best way to work and develop the best by placing the needs of the player first.


We can recognise all the common yet different characteristics of youth sports parents, as they all have a foundation of “good intent” and wanting the best for the team and/or child. As mentioned previously, there could be many diverse reasons behind each approach and behaviour, coaches need to understand WHY before attempting to embrace the educational processes for parents. There isn’t really a right or wrong way for parents to approach the game, it’s always a better way. A way to benefit the level of enjoyment for the child and places their needs first. Parents need to ask themselves, do you want your child to become a statistic by quitting a sport by the age of 13?

Thank you – Diolch yn fawr

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