Sport and the ugly parent syndrome

The three loves that tend to dominate all talk when us dads get together are, our wives, our kids and our sport ("yeh, mate, me missus said that when the kids crash I can come down the pub and watch the footy"). Sadly though, there are sometimes on a Saturday morning when our combined passions for our kids and sport can lead to heated emotions.

I have always encouraged my kids to participate in sport. With two girls, dancing rates highly, but they also are trying nippers, gymnastics, and a bit of soccer and netball. It's a great way for them to keep fit and healthy and master some basic physical skills as well as allowing them to burn off some steam and learn to work as a team. The main thing is that they enjoy what they are doing, and dip their toes in the water of lots of new experiences.

"That's when a dad turns up all smiles and suddenly turns into Damir Dokic as soon as the whistle blows".

In most of the activities, I have been involved with, the dads have really got behind their kids and chipped in to help with the tedious but necessary jobs that keep junior sport humming. But I have also seen the dark side. That's when a dad turns up all smiles and suddenly turns into Damir Dokic as soon as the whistle blows.

Parents' aggressively living their sporting fantasies through their kids is not a new concept and I acknowledge that much has been written about the phenomenon known as 'Ugly Parent Syndrome', or 'Parent Rage'. Unfortunately though, the fact that screaming at your child on the sideline now has an official name, doesn't mean sufferers are any quicker to diagnose their own problem or attempt to change.

"Parents saying too much were given chuppa chups- a very different type of gobfull!!"

No one likes an embarrassing sideline incident, especially in front of young kids and there are a number of initiatives being trialled at various clubs to curb the problem. One club I heard about in Western Australia tried a program where parents saying too much were given chuppa chups- a very different type of gobfull!!

So what's a dad to do when the things turn sour on the sidelines? The way I see it, there is nothing wrong with being your kid's number one fan and cheering loudly so long as it is done it a positive way.
  • Set high standards of yourself by practicing your own sportsmanlike behaviour. Acknowledge effort (even when the ants on the court were more interesting than the ball today) and speak positively about achievements ("OK kids, shake hands, and how about three cheers for the other team").
  • Never bag the ref - they might only be young themselves and doing it as part of their own commitment to the chosen sport. And, in a blink of an eye it will be your own child who has to withstand criticism from the sideline.
  • Always put safety first (It doesn't matter how hard you cheer if they are not feeling well or have a niggling injury and its mighty hard for a kid to enjoy a win with a broken leg)
  • Keep a watch out for your mates. If things start getting out of hand, a few quiet words will never go astray to save them from looking like a pork chop.
  • If Ugly Parent Syndrome is becoming a real problem in your sport, ask your club or Association to develop and distribute a Code of Practice to all parents, if they haven't done so already.
The most important thing to remember about kids sport, is that it is well... SPORT - not a battle ground. It's supposed to be about the KIDS having fun, developing skills, and meeting new friends. One look at the kid who has won this week's encouragement award will tell you.... winning and annihilating the opposition is much further to the back of their mind than the cheeseburger they're just about to collect at Maccas. So let's take their lead and let the best man win.