A million thanks for bringing the issues of youth sports parenting to light in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. And you are correct that there is way too much violence, noise and utterly embarrassing behavior from parents at these games…..all problems that my company iSport360, Inc. is solving. But as a sports parent, youth sports coach and someone who has made a career out of studying and solving these problems, I hope you don’t mind if I share some perspective on the plight of sports parents and answer some of the questions you raise.
From your article: “I’ve never understood crazy sports parents—what motivates an otherwise law-abiding citizen to act out on the sidelines of a game played by children? What satisfaction do they find by hounding coaches for playing time, or harassing referees for perceived mistakes? Do these parents think they’re being constructive?”
—First, I wholeheartedly agree that we should strongly condemn sideline parents who model poor behavior, poor sportsmanship, a sense of entitlement, and especially those who “chase referees to the parking lot.”
—That said, at iSport360 we have studied the behavior of sports parents on the sidelines of games with our Board Pyschologist Dr. Stephen Feldman Ph.D. According to Dr. Feldman, parents on the sidelines are frequently in “fight or flight” mode, meaning that they have elevated cortisol levels, stress levels and emotional levels. In fact, many of their actions and words can be defined as “involuntary.” This is because they speak/act/yell without applying their normal system of checks and balances. Read more about this topic in our article: “ Understanding The Sports Parent Psyche”
—Additionally, sports parents are spending about 10X what they spent 20 years ago on their kids’ sports. So they are, in fact, more demanding of the coaches, trainers and referees. Not sure whether to blame them or the ballooning youth sports industry for that.
—There are nearly 70MM sports parents in our country. Many of them, especially at the more competitive levels, do “hound” their coaches about who gets more playing time, who gets the starting position and who makes the travel team. But to be fair, that is because coaches do not have the time or the tools to share realistic and timely feedback…so parents are frequently in the dark. That is why at iSport360 we created a mobile feedback platform so coaches, parents and kids can share objective player feedback throughout the season and at tryouts. We’ve learned a lot about the importance of ongoing feedback from our K-12 Education Advisor Dr. Chris Tienken Ed.D. Read more about the importance of ongoing feedback in our article “Applying K-12 Ed Best Practices to Youth Sports”.
—Finally, many parents actually DO think they are being constructive and helpful.Even when they yell instructions from the sidelines. That’s because we spend a fraction of the money educating sports parents that we do educating coaches. Sports parents need to learn that it ruins the youth sports experience when a kid has to decide whether to listen to instructions from their parent or the coach. (And I can’t tell you how many times I have counseled young athletes who were dealing with this dilemma). At iSport360 we try to educate sports parents with information and humor and even teach them what is “cheerworthy” from the sidelines.
iSport 360 Is Helping
While some parents are “yelling, complaining, entitled, know-it-all, rotten, difficult, impossible, no-good” (to borrow your quote), most are reasonable people who need a bit of slack and some tools to address their pain points. That is where iSport360 is helping. If you are interested, I’m happy to dig deeper with you on better sports parenting as this topic needs all the attention it can get.
Founder & CEO, iSport360, Inc.
“Where coaches coach, players play and parents participate.”
Learn more or request a demo of our youth sports software that is helping teams improve communication, organization and player development.