Parents in Youth Sport: Be a Supporter, Not a Critic

“Your kid’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are… But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient, and who tries their best is a direct reflection of your parenting.”


I have been around youth sports for most of my life. I started playing organized sport when I was 6, and even though I am not currently coaching kids, both sides of my family run youth sport organizations in Ontario, Canada, and my husband is involved as well. I have seen my fair share of competitive sport being played over the years, and have also seen the evolution of parents’ attitudes and actions.

I think the goal of any parent, when they sign their child up to play competitive sports, is multi-dimensional. It could start out being an outlet to release their athletic potential and to have an active lifestyle, but I think it goes beyond that, including understanding the value and importance of teamwork, and learning valuable life skills. These skills, such as discipline, goal-setting, and accountability, will help children become professional, employable adults down the road.

Whatever the reasoning behind involving your child in sport, I understand that the ultimate goal can change. Your kid may show the potential and desire to pursue their sport to university, or to a professional or Olympic level. Many kids, however, don’t have those dreams; they love to play, and they love their teammates, but they see it as a temporary thing, and simply want to enjoy playing a game.

When I was young, parents never spoke to the coaches. If we went home and told our parents that the coach yelled at us, they said that it was probably because we did something wrong. If we were upset that we weren’t playing as much as our friend, we were told that it’s probably because our friend was better, and that if we wanted to be on the floor, we should work harder to improve. Parents came to games to cheer on the TEAM and that was it.

Somewhere in the last 15 years, a dramatic change has happened. These days, parents are EVERYWHERE, and make their opinions known about everything going on with a team. They talk to the coach about playing time, about how they talk to the kids, about how they run practice. Somewhere along the line, the individual has taken precedence over the team, and if a parent isn’t 100% happy, they talk to their kids, to the other parents, and to anyone who will listen.

For the Parents:

At what point did you forget why you got your kids involved in sports? Whether your kid is the superstar or the bench-warmer, they are learning the same lessons, and that resilience they are developing now will serve them exponentially later in life. Most of us have to work hard for what we want, and it is no different in sport. Instead of giving your child the message that we should be given what we want, maybe encourage them to work extra hard to EARN that spot on the floor. There is generally no fair-play in competitive sports, but if that is a priority for you, joining a recreational league is a great alternative.

Don’t push your own desires on your kids. You may want them to be the next Wayne Gretzky, but your kid might be perfectly happy in the situation they are in, and have no desire for that. Maybe they simply love being a part of a team, and of something bigger than themselves. You are your child’s role model and compass. They will buy in to everything you say because they want to make you happy. Be careful with what you say in your child’s presence, and don’t start a conflict that isn’t there. It may pain you that your child isn’t determined to get a scholarship, but I think it is important to meet them where they are. If building relationships with their teammates, and working hard at practice makes them happy, that’s the most important thing.

My suggestion to parents is to take a couple steps back. Given the opportunity, kids are more than capable of asking questions and resolving conflicts, and most will get up when they fall. It’s ok to fall; we learn the most valuable lessons that way. The important thing is to be supportive, regardless of what role your child has on their team, and to publicly place value on the team instead of the individual. When everyone is working together for the same goal, parents included, incredible things can happen.

Sport is a fantastic vehicle to help develop your kid’s personal growth and self-esteem if you LET IT. Don’t sabotage your kid’s success.

xo, Sarah



  • Laura April 17, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Thanks for sharing your insights about such an important message to parents, players and coaches. You are correct that the relationship between everyone has changed dramatically and not necessarily in a favourable fashion. I have coached for many years at a variety of levels and it is for the above mentioned reason that I have stepped away from the club level of coaching. I do not enjoy the interaction with the parents and the mentoring, developing rapport that we used to establish between players, parents and coaches is no longer a positive one. Part of me is torn because I enjoy coaching and teaching with a passion but that parent relationship has become a deterrent and one that I no longer want to deal with. I stay involved by mentoring coaches, developing curriculum for programs but I have removed myself some from such an adverse, unfavourable and damaging situation. I only hope that the players see the harm and they help improve it now or later when one day they choose to give back as coaches themselves.

    • Sarah Pavan April 18, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      I have heard these exact comments from A LOT of people, and it is really disappointing. The situation doesn’t have to be this way, so it’s really unfortunate, especially when so many coaches volunteer their time.


Leave a Comment