Parent Sideline Behaviour

There’s no denying that parents are essential to youth sports. Without the active participation of parents, junior clubs would struggle to find players, coaches, administrators, referees, and spectators. Also, parents make financial, social and work sacrifices to keep their children in junior sport.  This is through paying for memberships, attending games and training sessions.  Unfortunately, some parents behave inappropriately at youth sporting matches.  So, while we all want our children to succeed in the field, poor parent sideline behaviour can have detrimental effects on a child’s performance.

Poor parent sideline behaviour may include:

  • Foul language, threats or aggression directed toward the coach, umpire, player or even another parent.
  • Providing excessive instruction, or coaching from the sidelines.  Often, in contrast to what the child’s coach has instructed, generating confusion and embarrassment for players.
  • Put downs of a child’s abilities, in private, or in front of others.

Parents demonstrating poor sportsmanship

When parents behave poorly at sporting matches, children are more likely to drop out of team sports.  Furthermore, if you emphasise a ‘winning is everything’ attitude, you make the sport less fun, and more stressful for the child.  Children are taught that mistakes are not okay, and give up on trying for the fear of the consequences.  Also, it’s important for us to remember, and to remind our kids that mistakes are natural, and only make better players.  Junior sports should be about socialising, keeping active and developing skills, but most importantly: having fun. sideline-parents

Blaming the referee

When parents blame a referee for the result of a game, children learn to make excuses for outcomes. During a single match, thousands of decisions are made by referees, coaches and players.  So, to focus on one single decision made by a referee, as the sole reason for the outcome of the game only teaches our children how to absolve themselves of responsibility for their own actions. This leads to children who are less resilient, and who give up when facing adversity, for they feel they have no control over outcomes. To read more about raising resilient children, see here. Also, criticising the referees sets an extremely bad example for children.  Observing their parent abusing an umpire teaches children that, they too may act disrespectfully towards authority figures.  Once children learn a behaviour like this, it’s common for the rude behaviour to carry over into other areas of their lives, including school, family, and even work later in life. It’s also important to remember that referees are often minors themselves, and only making calls they believe to be the fairest. They don’t deserve the verbal abuse they are often at the receiving end of. If you have constructive criticism to offer, wait until the end of the game, and speak respectfully with the head umpire.

On the way home

Not all poor spectator behaviour happens while the game is in play.  Many children report receiving criticism on their performance in the car ride home.  While some children may be able to block out the yelling from the sidelines during a game, it is impossible to escape the criticism post-game. Not only does this contribute to sport dropout rates, but it can negatively affect a child’s self-esteem, and contribute to fatigue. It’s important to be supportive of your child, as your attitude may be the biggest contributor to whether they continue to enjoy sports or not, and will help shape how confident they are as a player. Your opinion is very important to them.  And, it may surprise you how many adults can report vivid recollections of criticisms during their junior sports days. It can disturb a child’s confidence for many years to come.

When bad sideline behaviour becomes a legal issue

Sometimes, bad behaviour on the sidelines becomes more than just poor etiquette, and is, in fact, against the law.  Examples of this include racial vilification, sexual harassment and common assault.  Moreover, clubs have a responsibility to report illegal behaviours to police. Things said in the heat of the moment can lead to formal charges for parents.  Junior sports should be enjoyable for children, and there’s nothing that will put a stop to the fun faster than seeing your parent escorted off the ground by a police officer!

What should I do if I see another parent acting poorly on the sidelines?

It can be quite intimidating to witness another parent acting aggressively on the sidelines, and it’s for this reason that you can’t sit idly by.  Also, if the behaviour makes you feel uncomfortable, imagine how frightening it is for your child and their teammates.  Bring it up to the coach and stress how important addressing this behaviour is to you.  Ultimately, they are responsible for the behaviour of their team’s parent spectators and can impose penalties onto the child or the parent.  Many clubs have policies to deal with abusive parents which may result in them being suspended or even banned from attending matches. You should not turn a blind eye to this problematic behaviour.  Remind other parents of the club’s code of conduct, and the consequences of breaching this code. Often, if you privately call a parent out on their poor behaviour, you can curb it before it gets out of hand.  Sometimes, conflict may arise when one parent places their child on a pedestal, placing the blame for disappointing results on the other children. Discourage toxic behaviours by making positive comments from the sidelines, and reminding other parents to focus on a child’s strengths, and not their weaknesses. Try not to engage in complaining about your child’s coach with other parents. Often tempting, it can be a difficult habit to break, once started. If you feel you have legitimate concerns, arrange an appointment with the coach to discuss. Remember that coaches want the best for their teams, and should be receptive to easing your worries. Also, you should be respectful and positive towards the parents of the other team, and refrain from making negative comments about their players.  When your child sees their parents exhibiting good sportsmanship, they are more likely to display it, too. If you witness behaviour that you think may be illegal, you should report it to the police.

What is good sideline behaviour?

Many clubs have a code of conduct which specifies their expectations from parents and spectators during a match. It may be similar to the following recommendations:

  1. Before and after each game remind your child that you’re proud of them.  No matter how they play.
  2. Show support and encouragement to all players on the field.
  3. Let the coach “coach”, while you simply spectate and enjoy the game.
  4. Honour the decision of the umpire.  They make the call they believe to be the fairest.
  5. Don’t let the heat of the moment get to you.  Ask yourself if your behaviour will embarrass your child, or yourself later.
  6. Thank the coaches and referees for their commitment and effort.  Most junior sports officials cite abuse from parents as the most stressful component of the job, which can lead them to quit.
  7. Prioritise fun. Have fun yourself, and make sure your child enjoys the game too.

A breach of the club’s code of conduct may result in disciplinary action for parents and/or players. We hope you found this article on appropriate parent sideline behaviour useful.  At Australian Sports Camps, we focus on skill building and strengthening positive behaviours in players, like good sportsmanship.  Our school holiday activities run over 3 days for boys and girls of all skill levels, aged 6 – 16 years. For all enquiries, please contact us on 1300 914 368 or at

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