Understanding the Sports Parent Psyche (notice I said “Psyche” not “Psycho”)

Ian Goldberg is the Founder and CEO of iSport360, a SportsTech company that is helping 12,000 coaches, parents and kids set goals, share player feedback and track player development….all so our kids can have more success, more confidence and more fun.  Try iSport360 for free here.sports psyche

Let’s start with a confession:  While I am a parent, coach and founder of a company that preaches best practices in sports parenting and coaching, I once actually charged the field with the intention of hurting someone (WOW it feels great to get that off my chest).

My Story

The backstory:  My daughter and her U9 soccer team were shaking hands with their opponents at the end of a tough game when I witnessed one of the players from the other team elbow her in the stomach.  Before my brain even had time to think, my body was already sprinting across the field.  For the first 5 milliseconds I was running with a vengeance toward the little girl who had just struck my daughter.  Then, thank goodness, in the blink of an eye, I changed course and charged toward the opposing coach (he was much closer to my 6’3” stature than was the 9 year old!!). By the time I got to him (in a grand total of 2 seconds after the incident), he calmly said to me, “Coach, I just saw what happened and I am going to discipline my player for her behavior.”  I said “Thank you”, and walked away thinking, “What on earth had just come over me”?

Dr. Stephen Feldman, a psychologist with years of experience studying sports parents and kids, labeled my reaction as “Reflexive”; that is, involuntary and automatic, akin to flinching when an object is flying towards your face.  The same biochemical and neurological mechanisms that underlie reflexive flinching underlie the aggressive behavior that sometimes is expressed by sports parents as they observe their kids on the field.  A sudden, involuntary rush of adrenaline and cortisol can transform a friendly, warm, level-headed parent into a virtual menace; someone capable of saying and doing some pretty shocking things.  I know this… I experienced it within myself. Considering that there is often a high level of emotion present during a youth sports game, it should be no surprise that the potential for excessive and inappropriate parental behavior is astronomical.

While Dr. Feldman and iSport360 will, in the near future, be exploring, talking, and writing about inappropriate reflexive behavior in sports parents and coaches, we’d love to hear about your experiences (or your research in this field).  But for now, here’s a challenge for all of you sports parents:  the next time your child gets beat on the field, gets knocked down, or loses the ball to an opponent, see if you can do and say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  It’s a true test of self-discipline.

We’ll be sharing more of our findings with you soon.

Enjoy the Game and please try iSport360 so coaches and team parents can share objective player feedback. www.isport360.com