Friday, October 12, 2012

Are hockey parents worse today?

(first posted on the NWCA Youth Sport blog)

Sport parents are getting as much press as professional athletes these days. And, it is not in a positive way. "Bench the parents" (1) and "Are Parents Ruining Youth Sports" (2) reflect the mood towards sport parents in the US. Parents are often seen as crazy and the root of all issues in youth sport.

Coaches want more resources on working effectively with parents? Link to my webinar on the Resources page.

The "crazy sport parent" has become modern lingo for parents that are overinvolved, controlling, too demanding, and outright just annoying and dangerous. I talk with sport parents frequently in my work as a sport psychology consultant. It is funny to me when a parent is about to try and convince me of their decisions about their child's sport and he or she prefaces it with "I am not one of those crazy parents." There is great concern about the actions of parents on our fields and courts. But, are parents really that much worse today?

Following media reports would probably lead you to believe that parents are more of a problem in today's world. In reality we do not know if parents are more violent, meddling in the coaches business more often, or more controlling of their children's sport experiences.

While many believe that parent violence at sporting events is on the rise, we do not have the evidence to verify it. One of the issues relates to defining parental behavior and how we track trends in society.  In fact, just following media reports can be misleading. Many media reports focus on parental violence but actually are misleading and are about booing or poor sportsmanship (3). Furthermore, with increased media exposure, focus on "shock news", and the explosion of social media the amount of news that is available to us is exponentially greater than has been in the course of history. So, it may be that many of these crazy parent behaviors happened in the past, we just did not hear about them. Finally, you must take in to account that high school and club sports have never had so much media exposure as they do today.

My gut tells me that bad parent behavior could be on the rise. Coaches, officials, and administrators will almost 100% agree. However, what is most important is how we work with parents. The mistake many coaches, for example, make is to treat the parents as the enemy, or at the least a distraction. Do not assume all parents are bad or that they should act perfectly. Instead, recognize these human beings who are invested in the success of their child. With direction many times they can provide a great deal of support to make a coach's season so much easier. Make them a part of the team, not the enemy.

Myth: Crazy sport parents, and just bad behaviors, are on the rise.

Fact: The craziness in parents could be on the rise, but we don't know. What is more important is to educate parents about the role in sport.

(1) Bissinger, B. (2008). Bench the parents. New York Times, Retrieved on September 13, 2012 from
(2)  Mason,  J. (2012).  Are parents ruining youth sports. Retrieved September 13, 2012 from 

(3) Heinzmann, G. S. Parental Violence in Youth Sports: Facts, Myths, and Videotape
Retrieved September 20, 2012 from

NWCA Youth Sport Blog
Grappling with the Toughest Youth Sport Issues
Because Youth Sport Athletes Deserve Quality Coaching and Positive Parenting
Larry Lauer, Ph D
Director of Coaching Education and Development
Institute for the Study of Youth Sports
Michigan State University

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