North Kitsap Soccer Club

Parental Involvement in Youth Sports

Parental Involvement in Youth Sports: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Sean P. Cumming & Martha E. Ewing
In a response to ‘loutish’ behavior on the behalf of
parents and coaches, official
s of the 200 team Northern
Ohio Girls Soccer League proclaim a game day of silence. On this day parents and coaches are banned from
making any noises during competitive play
. League officials attrib
ute the disorderly behavior of the parents and
coaches to an over fixation with winning and losing.
(Free Press, October 1999).
A growing concern amongst those
involved in youth sports is that certain
aspects of parental involvement are
detrimental to the development and
experiences of young athletes. An
increase in the number of reported
instances of parents engaging in violen
t, abusive, and controlli
ng behavior toward athlet
es, coaches, officials,
and fellow spectators has led many organizations to recons
ider the role of the parent in youth sports. For
example, the National Alliance for Youth Sports (http
:// has developed ‘The
Parents Association for Youth Sports
Program’, to promote sportsmanship behavior and teach skills such as
self-control. Similarly, the Amer
ican Youth Soccer Organization (
) requires parents of
players below 8 years of age, to atte
nd classes addressing sportsmanship a
nd behavioral conduct. Closer to
home, the Michigan High School Athl
etic Association (MHSAA) has create
d a video to help educate parents
about what is and is not appropriate
behavior in youth sports
. The video is entitled ‘What kids wished their
parents knew about sportsmanship’ a
nd is available at the MHSAA website
Parents are becoming increasingly invol
ved in the lives of young athletes.
Greater competition for athletic
scholarships and the lure of profe
ssional sports has motivated many parents to commit their children to
specialized training regimens at an early age (Ameri
can Academy of Pediatrics,
2000). Parents are also
investing larger amounts of time and fina
nces into the athletic development of
their children. Further, parents’
decisions to send or transfer children to and from academ
ic institutions are increasingly based upon the athletic
and not the academic reputation of
the schools concerned (Frenette, 1999). Although such actions are
supposedly taken in ‘the child’s best
interests’, there is a concern that
the over-involvement of parents may
negatively affect the child’s immediate
and long-term experiences in sports.
How involved should parents be in the lives of young athl
etes? A moderate degree of parental involvement is
important as it communicates interest
and support to the child. Children’s
perceptions of parental support and
involvement in physical activity have
been identified as positive predicto
rs of enjoyment,
participation in
physical activity, and continued participation in youth s
ports. The problem arises
when parents become too
involved in the lives of young athletes
. When parents are over-involved, athl
etes often feel that they have
relinquished control over their decision to
play sports. Athletes that feel that
they have little sa
y or control over
their decisions to play sports typicall
y report less interest in
sport, lower levels of
enjoyment and satisfaction,
and a more prone to drop out of sport (Vallerand, Deci, & Ryan, 1987).
As a parent how do you walk the fine line between be
ing involved and over involved in your child’s
life? The keys to becoming an effective parent are fi
nding out what children want
out of sports and helping
them achieve these desires. For example, when a child w
ho has always liked soccer but
has recently move up an
age group comes back from soccer practice and announces th
at he or she wants to quit, parents must explore
why the child has changed his or her mind. Parents may
need to get additional information from the coach.
Parents and children need to discuss
the issue of dropping out and explore a
nd what can be done to better meet
the child’s goals. Sometimes, children need to understa
nd that older youth play more
because they are bigger,
stronger and more experienced. As younger players, they
must continue to work and improve their skills so
they will be the best players when they are the oldest players on the team.
Parents must not lose sight of why youth partic
ipate in sport. A study of over 25,000 children from
across the US revealed that the most popular reason for pl
aying youth sports was ‘to ha
ve fun’. The next most
popular reasons for playing sport were to learn new skills,
to be with friends, and to experience the thrill of
competition. Although the children did identify winning as
a reason for playing sport it was not one of the most
popular reasons. Many parents
erroneously believe that winning is the
number one reason that children want to
play sports. Parents who become preoccupied wi
th winning and losing place an unreasonable amount of
pressure on their child and risk turn
ing their child off to youth sports.