Home » Team of Experts Channel » Dr. Keith Wilson, MSW, D. Div. » Performance Parenting » Teaching Parents How To Stay In Control On Youth Sports Sidelines

Teaching Parents How To Stay In Control On Youth Sports Sidelines

Combating performance anxiety experienced by parents

How Performance Principles Can Help Parents Avoid Tunnel Vision

Principles designed to help athletes perform better work for parents too! To avoid tunnel vision, you should:

  1. Relax your body and mind. Athletes and parents alike perform better when they are relaxed. For the athlete this means modulating the intensity of the game so that they are close to the optimal level of intensity necessary to perform at their maximum skill level. Successful athletes learn how to relax under pressure. If you, as parent, can stay close to your optimal level of intensity you will not court disaster by entering into tunnel vision. Think twice about what is happening around you. Relax, count to ten (there was a reason why your mother told you to count to ten before reacting to a stressful situation: counting to ten allows you to begin to relax your body) and you can be a better role model for your child and have more fun on the sidelines.

  2. Practice rhythmic breathing. It sounds so simple: breathe and stay relaxed. Yet, when most people are asked to breathe, they automatically think they need to take deep breaths, in other words, to inhale. This causes the chest to tighten and actually increases the level of anxiety. The key to relaxing your body and mind through breathing is to exhale. As you slowly let the air escape from your lungs, you can feel the muscles in your chest begin to relax. You can feel the tension leave. It feels so freeing to have the anxiety leave the chest. Remember, though, that it will take more than one exhale to bring you back from the brink of tunnel vision. It may take several minutes of relaxed rhythmic breathing to bring you back into focus. As you continue to focus on breathing, the "walls" of tunnel vision will start to disappear and you will be able to see and think more clearly. As your breathing and thinking becomes more relaxed, you are more likely to make good decisions, decisions consistent with, not destructive of, your values.

  3. Help other parents avoid tunnel vision. When all the parents of players on a team or in a youth sports program have been through sport parent training to, you are likely to see a noticeable improvement in the atmosphere on the sidelines. That is because everyone will be working from a common value standard that has been agreed upon and documented by his or her signatures. Such pre-season training will also empower you to help keep other parents out of tunnel vision. You can be proactive by intervening with parents whose intensity levels are driving them toward tunnel vision.

    Every parent on the sideline is vulnerable to tunnel vision. Situations in the game may push any parent closer to losing control. Because it is easier to keep a parent from ever going into the tunnel than it is to bring him back out, if you notice that another parent is beginning to become too intense, it is up to you and other parents to speak to that parent and help him or her regain focus and relax.

    If other parents are not able to help the stressed-out parent get re-focused, then a coach may have to intervene, since it is in the best interest of the team on the field for parents not to enter into tunnel vision and lose control on the sidelines. However, because misbehaving parents are a distraction to the coach, and he or she shouldn't have to worry about the behavior of their parents, it should be up to you and the other parents to help each other stay focused and relaxed.

  4. Don't yell; use a "quiet voice." When you need to help someone change their behavior, don't yell at them. People don't listen when they are yelled at. Yelling just prompts a "fight or flight" reaction. When your team's parents agree that its members will help everyone stay in control, a soft voice will help the person return to a fun level of intensity.

  5. Keep things positive. You are at your child's competition to cheer for your child. Since you can't dribble the basketball, block a lineman or pass the soccer ball, you need to channel your intensity in positive ways. Cheering is a great way to do just that!

    Make lots of noise as you encourage your child's team (remember to cheer, not just for your child, but for everyone on the team). Keep the comments positive. You can create a powerful sideline environment for your team when the cheering is focused, loud and positive. The players will feel inspired by the support and the parents will have a positive way to focus their intensity. As intensity is focused on positive cheering, parents will be less likely to stray into tunnel vision, lose focus and engage in negative, emotionally abusive behavior.