As the mum of a 5-year-old I’ve yet to experience the stresses and worries of seeing my child try to perform well in sport. But I have heard stories – oh so many stories about the nightmare parents who shout abuse at opponents (or even at their own kids), fight the referee, the coach, other parents and some who have been banned from watching. The worst story I heard was this one where a Tennis dad spiked his child’s competitor’s water bottle. The competitor drove home and lost control of the car. They died. The Tennis dad got 8 years in jail for manslaughter.

I also hear from coaches that some parents can be a nightmare – one told me about a mum who had created a spreadsheet of the playing time every kid on a team was given to prove their child was not getting as much as others.

But what about from the parent’s perspective. Having your child in a sport, trying to do well, is a demanding process; not only for your time, logistics and physical support but mentally. You want more than anything for them to be happy and do well – and you have no control over either. It can be very stressful.

Lists for life…

In psychology there are a number of lists of the stressors that we might have to handle in life and sport. There is one I use all the time with clients which is 117 hassles and stressors in day to day life that we might be struggling with. Having identified the specific stressors and hassles for that athlete we will theme them and come up with strategies to better handle them.

List for athletes…

Specifically for sport I have seen lists of up to 339 stressors that athletes might need to handle. The list I tend to use with athletes has 93 distinct stressors which break down into:

  • Performance (Preparation, injury, pressure, opponents, self, event superstitions)
  • Environmental (Selection, finances, training environment, accommodation, travel, competition environment, safety)
  • Personal (Nutrition, injury, goals and expectations)
  • Leadership (Coaches, coaching style)
  • Team (Atmosphere, support, roles, communication)

List for parents…

So what about parents? Well a new paper has just come out looking at those parenting young footballers in academies in Germany. The paper is great and really gets under the skin of what it means to be a sports parent in football. Only 5% of the parents interviewed (330 parents gave their views altogether) said they didn’t find the process of being a sports parent stressful. From the other 95% they created a list of 11 areas that parents might find stressful when supporting their kids in sport.

The eleven areas:

  • Child:  Playing time – Injury or risk of injury – Negative emotions – In-game mistakes – Fouls with injury – Criticism – Fouls without injury – Performance – Performance pressure – Penalties.
  • Other parents: Verbal misconduct – Discussions/fights among parents – Giving instructions – Ambitious parents – Negative emotions – Parent-coaches.
  • Coaches: Criticism – Screaming at players – unfair treatment – lack of transparency.
  • Parenting: Negative emotions – Inability to act – Empathy for Child.
  • In-game situations: Defeats – Penalty shots – Adjustments – Close score – Scouting – Racist comments – Return post injury – Score deficit – Goals for the other side.
  • Opponents: Poor sportsmanship – Aggressiveness.
  • Referee: Perceived wrong decision.
  • Organisation pre-match: Logistics and Travel – Diet preparation – Siblings
  • Environment: Burden of school and football.
  • Team: Dynamics – injuries of teammates – performance.
  • Spectators: Verbal abuse.

The list is specific to football but many elements will cross into a other sports. Have a look through, highlight the areas you find stressful and write them all down. With them in front of you it is a little easier to figure out a strategy and choose the ways you will improve your own experience of sports parenting.