K-State Perspectives flag
Home            Back to index


Keeping your cool at your kids' sporting events, even if you want to yell at the referee, your child or another parent

By Michelle Hall


Sporting events can bring out the best in children as they learn teamwork, get the chance to exercise, feel the accomplishment of playing their best and just have fun. But these games can also bring out the worst in the parents in the stands.

Everyone has seen parents at a game who berate their child, second guess every move the umpire or coach makes or yell at other players. Maybe you are even one of those parents.

Tony JurichTony Jurich, a professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, said it is vital for your child's well being to control your emotions at their sporting events.

"For you, it's venting, but for your kid it's damaging in so many ways," he said. "They may start to feel that they're losers not only in the game, but in life."

He said those who get so involved in sports may lack a sense of completion in their own lives. Sports are also one of the only times we taste heroics in modern life.

"We invest more in our teams than we should," Jurich said. "The investment we make seems not to be a team nature, but a personal nature. We say after a loss, 'Why did you do this to me?'"

Although Jurich said it's fine to be caught up in professional or even college sports, your own child's games are another story.

"When they play, how you react is going to mean a lot to them," Jurich said. He said you must think of your child's games, not as sporting events, but as schools for them to learn how to love sports and feel a sense of accomplishment. You as a parent must ask yourself, "What can I do to increase my child's love of the game?"

"That's the key," Jurich said. "Do you want your child to be good but hate it, or like it but maybe not be as good?

"Most of the words that come out of your mouth need to be encouragement," he adds. "If you're disappointed, those comments should be at one-quarter of the volume as the encouragement. And if you're going to deal with criticism, it must never be in front of anyone else and it should be in the teaching modality."

Jurich recommends matching the location of your seat in the stands to your level of self control -- sit far away if you find yourself yelling. And if you find yourself coaching from the stands, go ahead and sign up to coach -- don't criticize the coach from the audience.

If you've learned to control yourself at your child's games, but perhaps another parent has not and is ruining the event for everyone else, Jurich recommends asking the parent this question: "What are you trying to accomplish by yelling at your kid? Are you trying to belittle them? Teach them?"

"This puzzles the parent," Jurich said. And most of the time it also will quiet them down.

Sometimes parents are taking their frustration out on both their own child, as well as other children. Jurich recommends also talking to the other parent in this situation.

"Say, 'Excuse me, that's my son or daughter.' Most people will shut up at that point," he said. "If not, say, 'If this were the Royals, that's fine. But it's more important for me that my daughter likes to play sports at age 7."

If the parent continues their rant, speak with the manager, the umpire or league officials, Jurich added. And talk to your child about the other parent. Tell them that some people get very wrapped up in these events. But whatever you do, do not start a fight in the stands, Jurich said.

"The kids have to come before the adults," he said. "The other parent is ruining the opportunity for all the rest of the kids -- providing a negative atmosphere -- which is not conducive to learning the sport."

If you feel you cannot control your emotions at your children's sporting events, seek help. And remember that feelings about sports and competition are transmitted intergenerationally, Jurich adds. If you yell and scream, it's very likely your children will act the same way.

"You need to be able to understand the big picture," Jurich said. "Is your son or daughter enjoying the sport? Losing is not the end of the world. When it's all done it's still only a game."

Summer 2003