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Yelling from the Sideline Can Be Emotional Abuse

Children who have loud and noisy parents are at a disadvantage playing sports. Focusing on the game with a screeching parent in the background is next to impossible. A mother is always the first to pick out the voice of her child crying, "Mom! Mom!" in a crowded store. It's the same way with kids. It doesn't matter how many fans are yelling, they can pick out their parents' voices through the din.

Study In Contrast

It's okay to yell, because, even if your child hears you, it won't affect his performance, right?


Chet was a twelve-year old forward on one of the soccer teams I coached. Five games into the season, a pattern began to emerge. One game Chet would play well. The next Saturday he played poorly. One week he was strong and assertive. The next week, he was fidgety and tentative. I decided to chat with his parents to see if they could shed any light on the mystery. 

Chet introduced me to his mother. She mentioned that she and Chet's dad were divorced and that he would be at next week's game. During the course of game, whenever I glanced over at the parents on the opposite sideline, I saw Chet's mom nervously pacing back and forth, cigarette in hand, shouting instructions at him. The following week, I studied Chet's dad. He was calm and supportive, never leaving his seat in the bleachers as he cheered.

Children take cues from their parents. Whenever Chet looked at or heard his mother, he lost focus, the quality of his play suffered, and he stopped having fun. With his father on the sidelines, Chet could focus on the game without being distracted, and his play improved dramatically. 

Living Vicariously

Sports psychologist Thomas Turko is one of many who feel that the reason so many parents get too wrapped up in their child's sports is because they are living vicariously through their children. Other experts feel that parental over-involvement results from unrealistic expectations about their child's athletic abilities, and a desire to do everything possible to see to it that their child becomes the next Serena Williams, LeBron James, or Abby Wambach. As a result, they place too much emphasis on making sure their child wins, has a great game, or stands out from the other players.

Get Some Exercise!

Parents who are too wrapped up in their children's activities may benefit from playing their own sports. Better to blow off steam or pent-up stress in a competitive bowling league, or on the tennis or basketball court, then at your child's game. When I felt myself becoming a bit too involved in my son's games, I tried to make sure I released the tension by playing squash or taking a vigorous 3-mile walk with my dog. When you are calm, you will start to notice your young athlete becoming calm too.

Adapted from the book Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006) byBrooke de Lench, Executive Director of MomsTeam Institute.

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