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Parents and Sports: What Kids Want You to Know

Submitted by on February 22, 2014 – 3:15 pmNo Comment

by Cynthia Frosch, Ph.D.

I attended the 2009 Society for Research in Child Development conference in Denver, where over 6500 people gathered to learn about the latest research on children’s development. As I walked around the exhibit hall, a certain poster caught my eye. The poster, presented by Dr. Jens Omli of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, was entitled “Kids Speak: Child Preferences for Coach and Parent Behavior at Youth Sport Events.” Having experienced soccer with my son when he was 3, I was intrigued by the title. Talking to Dr. Omli, he quoted former Major League Baseball player, Earl Wilson:
“For the parents, a Little League game is a nervous breakdown divided into innings.”
That quote made sense to me and I wanted to learn more about the Kids Speak project and Dr. Omli’s research on parents’ and coaches’ behaviors and the impact they have on children who play sports. The goal of the project is to understand what 7-14-year-old children really want and need from their parents and coaches at game time.
Dr. Omli described 3 different kinds of parenting evident during kids’ sporting events – Hostile-Intrusive, Supportive, and Distracted. Distracted parents talked on their cell phones, read magazines, or talked to other parents during games. In other words, they weren’t focused on their child or the game. In contrast, intrusive parents tended to make numerous evaluative comments, positive and negative, critiquing their child’s performance and the game’s coaching.
Dr. Omli found that the children prefer their parents to play the role of “supportive parents” rather than “demanding coaches” and “crazed fans.” So the next time you are watching your child’s game, focus on supporting your child rather than demanding perfection or going overboard with your energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps, then, you too can avert the “nervous breakdown broken into innings” that Earl Wilson so poignantly described.
According to Dr. Omli, here are the Top 10 Things Kids Want Parents to Do at Youth Sport Events:

  1. Go to their games and watch them play.
  2. Tell them that they did a good job.
  3. Clap after their team does something good.
  4. Encourage them after the game if their team lost.
  5. Encourage them while they are playing.
  6. Control your own emotions.
  7. Say “good try” if they make a mistake.
  8. Bring treats for them and their teammates.
  9. Take pictures or video of the game while they play.
  10. Compliment the umpire or referee if they make a good call.

Top 5 Things Kids DO NOT Want Parents to do at Youth Sports Events:

  1. Tell them to break the rules.
  2. Swear or say “bad words” loud enough for them to hear.
  3. Say mean things to the other team.
  4. Yell at them if they make a mistake.
  5. Argue with parents from the other team.

You can read other great posts by Cynthia Frosch at I thank her for allowing us to post this information on our blog. There are some other great articles on a variety of topics on the Center for Children and Development site.


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