Parents in Sports


…. “Sports are wonderful: they can bring you comfort and pleasure for the rest of your life.

Sports can teach you so much about yourself,your character, how to be resolute in moments of crisis and how to fight back from the brink of defeat.

In this respect, the lessons of sport cannot be duplicated easily.

You quickly discover your limits but you can also build self–confidence and a positive sense of yourself.

Never think of yourself as being above sports”…

(The late Arthur Ashe, 1993 in his postscript of “Days of Grace”)


Parents in Sports

The purpose of “Parents in Sports” is to help us understand the important interactive role and relationship between club, coach, athletes, and parents.

It has been stated that sports are a “way of life” in North America. Modern Media therefore tends to reinforce these beliefs by providing 24-hour sports network coverage.

Instead of becoming “blitzed” with sports entertainment overload numerous people want to get involved in coaching or manage “their own team” – and so they do – often with severe consequences for young athletes. Some sport sociologists propose… “Parenting does not provide gold medals”… Therefore, a number of parents live vicariously through the success of their child/children because “it proves they have done it right!

While many communities rely on qualified and experienced professional coaches well trained volunteers and sport-educated parents with the appropriate coaching background are still in minority. Whereas Canada requires coaches to undergo the Canadian Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) National Sports governing bodies in the US are reluctant to do so.

Subsequently, certain ethical issues (abuse of athletes) have become focal points more so in that country, although Canada has had its share.

The coach/athlete/parent relationship should be a very positive with a facilitating interaction. However, it can become negative in some instances or very destructive in extreme cases. The latter is difficult to deal with because the so-called “winning trap” – “win at all cost attitude” – still tends to prevail since “nobody remembers someone coming in second place” (so the saying goes). We are a “competition driven” society and this point of view by coaches and parents alike has filtered down into youth sports.

Influenced by Media coverage and the sports spectacle for the TV audience has resulted in distortion of ideals in lower or developmental levels in sports. The transfer of the prominent “must win” belief, evident in elite and professional sports, has created major issues within the modern youth sports scene.

As a result, winning oriented attitudes by coaches and parents contribute to an increase of sport dropout at large.

Let’s examine the ‘ideal’ relationship, which is based on a theory that the athlete, coach, and parent form a triangle with athletes on top while the other two agencies act as support groups. This indicates a positive and “athlete centered” relationship in a developmental model.

In contrast, professional athletes are the baseline and management is on the top because the former have become ‘objects,’ traded, moved about, and told what to do in all instances.

Someone actually proposed that this arrangement creates a “feeling of dependency.” Some see it as the reason numerous athletes ‘are lost’ when their careers are finished, resulting in alcoholism, drugs and suicide in reported cases.

What does this have to do with parents and children in sport? In many instances, parents push too intensely or forcefully for results and/or success. Coaches feel the pressure to produce in age group swimming, for example, one can attest at meets where the stopwatch is the “main tool” in the hands of parents and coaches.

I have always believed that a coach’s role at this point is to observe the performance and make notes for error detection/ correction/ implementation of future drills, and positive feedback. Anybody can ‘flick’ that watch! Athletes are treated as “Mini Adults” or “Mini Professional” – not children, who engage in sport for one reason only, FUN.

A Michigan, USA (2000) based study examining 20,000 children and youth athletes denotes that 67% [now between 70-73%] drop out for 10 top reasons.

reasons to rejoin

I would get involved in a sport I dropped again if

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Instant success Self Serving Gratification

Parents, according to sport sociologist experts, can be identified under various labels:

The Avoider
Wants to have the child/children FUN with very little skill learning (“babysitter” approach).

The Pusher Perfectionist
Is very intense, personally identifying with the child’s/children’s performance, perceived as a reflection of the personal Ego, which is in need of a “boost.” Losing is taken as a personal “let down,” often followed by “silence” treatment or social isolation.

The Convincer
Coaxes the child/children via promises, or dominates through guilt or fear, and is convinced that these techniques are highly motivational. Often, athletes play injured or with pain. These parents do not realize the potentially “lethal” effect. In due time the child/children resort[s] to excuses to avoid practice (fake[s] sickness or make[s] him/herself sick… tummy ache, vomiting, etc.), hides in the locker room, or wants to drop out.

The Facilitator or Enabler
Is the “ideal” parent because physical. emotional, and social well being of the child/children is the focal point. This empowers athletes and facilitates their learning process. For the facilitator coach, seeking instant gratification is far removed because he/she is aware of the complexity and responsibility in teaching the generation of tomorrow.

It is not “sugar and spice and everything nice.” The educational process and leadership demands full commitment, patience, tolerance, and “is relentless work.”
Rewards are not always in the present. They more often happen in the future when athletes succeed at higher levels of sport or acknowledge the influences and support they received in sports in other areas of life.

In order to be effective and exciting youth leaders (coaches and parents) we have to act as ultimate role models and deal in a responsible manner with issues or problems unique to age group athletes.

In addition, it is recommended that clubs host a series of educational seminars to educate parents or review expectations in regard to the training and development of young athletes.

Dr. Monika Schloder (contact@coachingbest.com)

  • Monika E. Schloder, Ph.D., 2008 Alberta Coach of the Year has won 14 International Teaching and Coaching Awards.
  • Earned the 1996 3M Teaching Fellowship Award for Outstanding Teaching in Canadian Universities
  • Was awarded numerous annual Teaching Excellence Awards at the University of Calgary from 1992 to 2007.
  • Is a well-known speaker, having presented at numerous International Congresses and ASCA World Clinics in Swimming.
  • Is Board Member of Alberta INMotion Network Promoting Physical Activity and Sports for Girls and Women.
  • Served as the Master Coach in Residence for the LA84 Foundation from 1991-2004, designing Minority Coach programs in Swimming and Soccer.
  • Developed KISFit (Los Angeles) and KEIKI Fit (Hawaii), both physical activity and nutrition education programs for Minority school children and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hawaii.
  • Presently directs the Alberta Modern Pentathlon Team, coaching Swimming and Running within that program.
  • Is the author of several Coaching Books and Video series in Swimming (“Fly Away” – The Butterfly and “Free Spirit” – The Front Crawl).

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