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How Athletes Want Parents to Behave




We've all experienced it - being a spectator at a sports event and witnessing that one parent who can't stop shouting at the officials, coaching their child and generally being a nuisance.

Apart from it being a tragically bad look, being “that” parent can have wide-ranging effects on young athletes. Here are some of them: 


  • A parent’s poor behaviour can cause embarrassment. This will be particularly difficult if fellow athletes notice and comment and can potentially lead to them resenting their parent's presence.

Strained Relationship:

  • The relationship with their athlete may suffer, leading to communication difficulties, decreased trust, and a hostile atmosphere between them.

Missed Opportunities:

  • By engaging in poor spectator behaviour, a parent’s enjoyment of their athlete’s sporting journey and special moments can be missed.

Negative Influence:

  • A parent’s poor behaviour can set a bad example for their athlete, teaching them unhealthy ways of engaging in sports that can potentially impact their own behaviour.


  • When a parent spectator is only looking out for/ noticing the ‘mistakes’ they will be blind to all the positive aspects of their athlete’s performance. This can be particularly difficult for a young athlete and can cause feelings of “not being good enough”.

Limited Perspective:

  • The parent will be unable to fully appreciate and understand their athlete’s experiences, challenges, and achievements.

Detrimental to Family Dynamics:

  • Negative spectator behaviour can create tension, conflict, and an unhealthy competitive atmosphere within the family, affecting the overall dynamics.

By adopting a positive and supportive approach, parents can create an environment that allows young athletes to thrive, enjoy their sport, and develop a healthy relationship with competition. All athletes are different… it’s important to find out how yours would prefer you to behave because:

  • Doing ‘the wrong thing’ will cause frustrations that both athletes and parents can do without.

  • Doing ‘the right thing’ leaves the athlete feeling supported, understood, and (assuming everything else has gone to plan) happier.

Oh, and remember, sometimes, less is more when it comes to expressing your emotions in public… in front of your child!!


Expert Guidance

How Athletes Want Parents to Behave: 

How You Can Help

Drawing on our experiences, we've compiled some helpful tips for parents to keep in mind when spectating their athlete's sporting events:

Be Supportive:

  • Offer encouragement, positive reinforcement, and expressions of pride, regardless of the outcome.

Maintain Boundaries:

  • Respect the coach's authority and avoid interfering or coaching from the sidelines.

Display Sportsmanship:

  • Set an example by showing respect for officials, opponents, and teammates, promoting fair play and good sportsmanship.

Manage Expectations:

  • Avoid placing excessive pressure on the athlete and maintain realistic expectations.

Be Attentive:

  • Pay attention to the athlete's needs, emotions, and wellbeing, offering support and guidance when necessary.

Enjoy the Moment:

  • Focus on enjoying the experience and celebrating the athlete's efforts and achievements.


Take Home Point

Get it right - being present at your athlete’s sport provides valuable opportunities for you to connect with them, strengthen the bond between you, and have great fun being part of their sporting journey.

Get it wrong - your athlete might develop negative feelings towards your involvement which, if a significant part of their life, could greatly affect your relationship.

Avoid harmful behaviours such as excessive pressure, criticism, or interference. Remember that your role as a parent is to provide encouragement, show good sportsmanship, and create a positive environment, allowing your athlete to focus on and enjoy their sport.

Being a positive spectator contributes to your athlete's enjoyment. Seeing you happy and enjoying their sport will make them happy…



Evidence-Based Research


Our content is supported by the following evidence-based research: Arthur-Banning, S., Wells, M.S., Baker, B.L. and Hegreness, R., 2009. Parents behaving badly? the relationship between the sportsmanship behaviors. Journal of Sport Behavior, 32(1), pp.3-18.

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