Who’s Responsible for the Good, Bad & Ugly Behavior of Sports Parents?

Who’s responsible for behavior of sports parents—the coach, the parents or the kids? No one  in their right mind would believe that kids are responsible for their parents’ behavior. Of the broad spectrum of inappropriate behavior exhibited by parents at practices and sporting events, it is the parents that are responsible for their actions. No question. Yet coaches do have some control and influence— his or her actions can shape how parents behave either as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sports parent.

ins_sportsIllustration by: Zohar Lozar

I was motivated to write about this topic after reading the results of a survey of  youth coaches’ views on sports parents behavior. The results were disturbing (see info graphic below), coaches report that parents overemphasize winning, criticize referees (95% have seen parents yell at a referee), and often cross the boundaries between coaching and parenting. Fair enough.  But (some) coaches are part of the problem, exacerbating inappropriate sports parenting behaviors by demonstrating poor sportsmanship and stressing winning over all else. Yet approaching this from a positive angle, coaches can be part of the solution in addressing the problem of parents unseemly actions.

The survey, though somewhat limited in scope, does serve as a starting point for discussion about parent behaviors and coaches’ role.  The coach can create a positive team culture where parents know the boundaries and more importantly know how to behave.  From my experience I’m convinced that the majority of parents aren’t aware of how detrimental their behavior is, don’t know the line between supportive actions and ones that interfere with coaching, and aren’t even aware of what behaviors represent ‘good’ sports parenting. I didn’t know how to be effective as a parent of young athletes—what behaviors were helping my kids and what were not. I look back and cringe.  I did learn however, after doing considerable research (click here to view book list on sports parenting), how to be a better sports parent.  I also determined that coaches, clubs and leagues have a role in educating parents in behaviors associated with what a good sports parent is. Posting a set of rules (on a t-shirt or elsewhere) is not enough.


Posting a set of rules (on a t-shirt or elsewhere) for parents to follow is not enough.

Coaches can help by demonstrating good sportsmanship behaviors about winning and losing, treating other coaches, referees and parents with respect. Coaches are role models not only for kids but for parents. Leagues and clubs can help by providing coaches with training, support and tools in how to communicate effectively with parents, as well as by offering workshops or webinars targeted to parents on the topic of effective parenting strategies.

Establishing guidelines for behavior at games and practices is helpful, more so when emphasizing the rationale—mainly how it affects their kids. Parents will also be more reasonable when coaches are communicative with parents, outline practice strategies and expectations, training strategies (for elite athletes), provide options for parents to contact coaching staff or league administrators, as well as describe how parents can best support their kids to have a positive experience. Good communication between the coaching team and parents will set a tone for a positive team culture, minimizing behaviors that undermine the kids and the game.

The buck stops does stop with the parent on how to behave and how to provide a good sporting experience for their kid as I’ve mentioned, but when coaches, clubs and leagues approach team sports as a partnership between parents and coaches, provide education and support to parents, the odds of parents behaving goes way up.


Further Reading:

One thought on “Who’s Responsible for the Good, Bad & Ugly Behavior of Sports Parents?

  1. Very descriptive and detailed article on sports and education. Many gave up sports on account of education in many parts of the world. But the trend has already been started and people all over the world are accepting sports as part of education and self development.


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