What makes a good sports parent?

Published: 06 Apr 2017

What makes a good sports parent?

This is a great article for every parent of sporting children to consider.

1.     Be supportive, don’t coach.

Provide encouragement, support, empathy, transportation and equipment. But do not coach (unless you are the coach – then coach your heart out)! Especially from the side line. It is ok to talk about tactics and technical aspects of the game but this is better off done at home away from the playing arena. Yelling out instructions from the sideline can be confusing, overwhelming and distracting which can decrease performance in particularly if these contraindicate instructions from the coach.

2.     Don’t define success and failure in terms of winning and losing.

The main purpose of youth sport is fun, skill acquisition and mastery. It is important that the emphasis is on their performance. Did they play to the best of their ability? Did they play their role well? Did they follow the coach’s instructions? And were they a good winner or loser?  Even if they don’t play well, remember you are their number one supporter, focus on the positives and give constructive criticism.  Do not equate your child’s self-worth and lovability with their performance. It is possible to play your best and still lose.

3.     Respect all players.

It is important to remember your child is not the only person on the field or playing. It is important you support all the players on the team even if someone is having an off game. It is hard enough getting heckled by opposition players and supporters let alone your own. It is also important to respect the other team. Your actions and beliefs towards the other team or opposition player will be observed by your child.  Just remember sporting circles are often small and players move from club to club, players from different clubs may be team mates at school and representative levels.

4.     Do not live out your dreams through your child.

  • Are they doing it because they want to for them or because of you?
  • Are they playing because they don’t want to disappoint you or because they know how important the sport is to you?
  • Are they playing for extrinsic rewards and bonuses you give them?
  • Are their goals and aspirations yours or theirs?
  • How invested are you in their success and failure?

If your child stays involved for you or because of you everyone will lose in the end. If your child is playing for their own reasons, own goals they will be far more motivated to excel and more likely to be successful.

5.     Teach your child to have perspective of their support.

Parents need to help their children develop realistic expectations about themselves, their abilities and how they played, without robbing the child of their dreams. It is important to remember very few people (2-3 per 10 000) are skilled and lucky enough to make their sport into their profession and even fewer can make that into a financially stable career.  Remember sport is a great way to teach healthy habits, meet friends and have fun. Sport should not be used as a tool to boost your child’s popularity.

6.     Avoid comparisons and developmental differences.

Comparisons can be inaccurate and destructive. Each child matures differently and the process of comparison ignores significant distorting effects of developmental differences. For example, two 12 year old boys may only have their age in common! One may physically have the build and perform like a 16 year old while the other, a late developer, may have the physical size and attribute of a 9 year old. Performance comparisons can prematurely turn off otherwise talented athletes on their sport. The only value of comparisons is in teaching. If one child demonstrates proper technique, that child can be used comparatively as a model.

Remember – no one loves your kids more than you do.  Make sure they know it.



Tom is a high level soccer player, a really great physio and not a parent.  In addition to his own experience and observations, he has drawn on advice from experts in preparing this article.  If you would like to read more – look at these…