The pitcher winds up and throws the pitch. He swings the bat and WHACK, Joey hits the ball and gets a single. He was so excited that he didn’t realize that his teammate was tagged out and it was time to play in the outfield. Joey returns to the dugout with his head down, looking toward the ground. Although he had gotten a single, he had swung at a pitch that was clearly out of the strike zone. Joey’s dad was certain he could have had a home run if he would have waited for a better pitch.
Most parents strive to be good parents and want to believe that their attendance and support helps their child play better. There are times when good intentions in the form of helpful tips, support and sideline coaching transforms into emotional situation and can become emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse, as defined by the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation (NYSSF) occurs when an individual treats a child in a negative manner which impairs the child’s concept of self. Emotional abuse is the most difficult abuse to identify and the most common form of maltreatment in youth sports.
Examples of emotional abuse in sports are:
- “You will play because I said so.” (forcing a child to play)
- Giving a child the silent treatment after he or she doesn’t perform as expected.
- Criticizing a child for his/her performance.
- Punishing a child for not playing well or for not playing hard enough.
How Common is Abuse in Youth Sports?
In 1993, the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission conducted a survey of young athletes and found that 45% of those surveyed said they have been called names, yelled at or insulted while playing sports. 17% said they have been hit, kicked or slapped while participating in sports, 21% said they have been pressured to play with an injury and 8% said that they had been pressured to intentionally harm others. Although these statistics are astonishing it is more important to understand how children respond to actions such as yelling, booing, hitting, and profane language. Children are emotionally fragile and do not respond to situations the same as adults. They way they perceive a particular scenario is what they believe. A coach or parent may raise their voice and use facial expressions while simply trying to get a point across. The child may perceive this as being yelled at or being criticized. The child may then be “turned off” to sports participation. According to a survey of over 3,300 parents conducted by Sporting Kids Magazine in 2003, 84% witnessed parents acting violently and 80% believe inappropriate behavior is destroying what youth sports are meant to be.
Warning signs that indicate an overzealous sport parent may have crossed the line include:
- The outcome of the game is the main focus.
- During the game they shout negative and critical remarks at children, coaches or officials.
- The parent has discussions with the coach about how he coaches and who should be playing where.
- Their child has requested that they not to come to the games.
- They constantly compare their child’s skills to the other children
- The parent will force their child to practice at home until they feel significant improvement has been made.
- The fanatical parent is more concerned with the team winning than they are about their young athlete having fun.
What Can Parents Do to Help?
Parents often know what actions are appropriate but don’t know how to contain the anxiety and excitement of being a sport parent. As a result, the parents do and say things that they normally would not do under less stressful conditions. Parents need to remember that attitudes and behaviors taught to children in sports carry over to adult life. As with life lessons, it is important for parents to be actively involved in their child’s sports in a positive way.
Good Sport parents can help their children get the most out of sports by:
- Providing emotional support
- Providing positive feedback
- Attending games, voicing only positive comments
- Having realistic expectations for your child
- Learning about the sport
- Helping the young athlete handle disappointments and losing
- Helping the young athlete appropriately deal with feelings of aggression
- Helping the young athlete to understand good sportsmanship
- Never tolerating violent behavior
- Do not focus on winning
- Modeling respectful spectator behavior
Enough is Enough
Anyone who has spent time around youth athletics is sure to have witnessed inappropriate sideline behavior. A parent has an incredible opportunity to make an impact on their child’s success and happiness in numerous aspects of life and sports have become a medium for that opportunity. Parents may get caught up in the excitement and lose sight of this. Inappropriate behavior can have long lasting, negative consequences on young athletes. To help children get the most out of both good and bad experiences, parents need to be good “sports” parents.
Consult your primary care physician for more serious injuries that do not respond to basic first aid. As an added resource, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine is available to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries for youth or adolescent athletes. Services are now available in five locations. To make an appointment, call (614) 355-6000 or request an appointment online.