We have all seen those parents who get a little too involved in their children’s competitions. The game begins with the spectators oohing and aahing over all of the adorable little ones trotting out in their uniforms, smiles adorning their sweet faces. At some point, as the competition heats up, there is that one (or two or three or more) parental unit that begins to get a little red-faced. That flush of irritation escalates to grumbling and then to yelling. The verbiage may begin as encouragement, yet morphs to insults as the game clock marches on toward the inevitable meltdown, while the rest of us are left cringing in the stands.
This behavior has become a serious problem. On some level, the inner turmoil is understandable. Those are our babies out there, playing their little hearts out, and it hurts a parent deeply to see their failed attempts or bitter disappointments. While those feelings are legitimate and innate to us, how we react to them impacts our children greatly. To be honest, some of the reasons behind such poor sportsmanship are not as lofty. For example, some parents attempt to live their own childhoods vicariously through their progeny. Some look at the money and time involved in extracurricular activities as an investment for the future, assuming that success will lead to college scholarships or large payouts. Others have a winner-take-all mentality and feel that success for their son or daughter means success as a parent. And then there are always the control freaks, who cannot allow a coach or referee to make decisions for even a game, when it involves their child.
Despite all of the causes leading to such attitudes, clearly, some parents are taking these games far too seriously. What lessons are our children learning when they see parents screaming insults at coaches or umpires, verbally assaulting the other team, with horrified spectators recoiling in shock and their child cowering in mortification? How in the world can a child develop a healthy attitude toward competition in such a crazed situation? The simple answer is, that they can’t!
So, how can we all learn NOT to be that parent? First of all, invest some time on positive encouragement! There is no need to heckle or use abusive language. Cheer for the entire team. In fact, if the other team makes a fantastic play, acknowledge that, as well. It will show your young one that you recognize hard work and good play in everyone. What better way to exemplify positive sportsmanship than to recognize everyone involved?
Another helpful tip is to support the coach and team by attending meetings, learning the rules, and assisting when needed. Let the coach take the lead! There is no need to take over. If you disagree with something the coach has said or done, speak to him or her privately, in a respectful and friendly manner. Do not undermine the coach by gossiping with the other parents or spectators.
Lastly, always keep in mind that your children will mirror your attitudes and behaviors! Never lose sight of the fact that your baby, no matter if he or she is five or fifteen, will notice and respond to your own actions. What we say and do in the high emotion of competition will be reflected back upon us by our kids. When it comes down to it, this is a game and should be enjoyed! Sometimes children learn more from losing…and they certainly will watch how you as an adult handle loss. Taking the fun out of the game also steals away the lessons you want your kids to learn.
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