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Parents need coaching at youth sporting events
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Children can learn a lot on the field of athletic competition, but one thing they don't need to learn is how to harass other athletes.
Thousands of young Mississippians are take part in organized sports each year. These activities give children the opportunity to stay physically fit, learn teamwork, build self-confidence, master new skills and receive personal satisfaction. But too often they have become places for negative lessons as well.
Not only are some coaches verbally abusive to their young athletes, but some parents get too emotional on the sidelines. Many parents don't limit the criticisms and taunts they shout to their own children, their children's teammates and the opposition.
This behavior has become a nationwide problem. Louise Davis, Extension associate professor of child and family development at Mississippi State University, said parents need to behave properly both on the field as coaches and on the sidelines.
"Parents and coaches have the responsibility to model appropriate behavior so children can learn how to act in a sportsmanlike manner," Davis said. "When parents and coaches don't understand the definition of appropriate behavior, athletic codes of conduct can be useful in guiding behavior and ensuring that all parents and coaches know what is expected of them."
Several attempts have been made nationwide to curb bad behavior from parents on the sidelines. The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation and the state of Massachusetts developed a sport parent code of conduct that embodies the concept of sportsmanship and six core principles of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship.
The National Alliance for Youth Sports issued guidelines for parents exhibiting bad behavior on the sidelines. They encourage training coaches in proper behavior, emphasizing the philosophy that athletes come first, and winning comes second. They also encourage leagues to penalize bad behavior in coaches and parents.
Davis said coaches should show an encouraging attitude to all the children, treating them as valuable players on the team. Children are still learning the rules of the game and developing the skills needed to play it, and coaches should have reasonable expectations of their abilities.
"Good sportsmanship means accepting a loss as another way to learn life lessons," Davis said. "Both parents and coaches should use positive, encouraging words to teach youth rather than derogatory terms and words."
When parents or coaches put down young athletes, they are teaching them that no matter what they do, it will never be good enough.
"Children whose coaches yell at them and demean them learn to be mean-spirited and selfish," Davis said. "Sports give youth the perfect opportunity to learn so many good things in a positive, fun setting, but too many adults ruin the experience and teach attitudes and behaviors that will have to be un-learned later."
She said parents need to decide what type of adult they want their children to become. Learning to be courageous, responsible, trustworthy, caring, giving, self confident and having a proper attitude comes from constructive speech and behavior, not jeering and heckling.
"All of us need to work together to ensure that youth have positive learning experiences whenever they are engaged in extracurricular activities," Davis said.
Several years ago, The Physician and Sportsmedicine journal recommended appropriate behavior by adults. Their guidelines include the following:
- Parents must make sure their children know that they love them whether they win or lose and are not disappointed with their performance;
- Be realistic about the child's physical ability and help the child set realistic goals;
- Emphasize improved performance, not winning;
- Don't relive personal athletic pasts through a child;
- Control emotions at games and events and be a cheerleader for the entire team;
- Respect the coaches;
- Be a positive role model and enjoy the sport.