Wednesday, 22 May 2024

Helping Create Sportsmanship in the Stands

Club directors and coaches often have to navigate the challenge of working with parents to ensure a calm and positive environment during matches. While difficult behavior from parents might seem insignificant or even humorous, it can have serious negative impacts on young athletes. Joseph Burgo, PhD, an expert in the field, explains that competitive parenting can be more damaging than we realize. He describes it as a form of narcissism, where parents see their children as extensions of themselves and strive to prove their own worth through their children’s success.

However, Burgo also mentions that parents can be competitive without resorting to narcissistic behavior. The key is finding a balance between healthy competition and respect for others. In this article, we will explore practical suggestions from Burgo on how parents can recognize, defuse, and address bad sportsmanship in the stands.

How Parents Can Create Sportsmanship in the Stands

Talk to their kids

Before trying to address a competitive parent, it is important to have a conversation with your child. Help them understand that the behavior of others does not reflect on them personally. By teaching them at a young age to let negative comments and yelling roll off their backs, they can develop resilience and navigate similar situations throughout their lives. This is an opportunity for growth and learning.

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Talk to the coach

Approaching a situation with a competitive parent carefully is crucial. Rather than confronting the parent directly, it may be more effective to discuss the issue with the coach or another authority figure, such as the club director. Sometimes, coaches are unaware of what is happening in the stands due to the chaotic nature of sports events. A skilled coach can address the importance of good sportsmanship with the parents and help diffuse any potential conflicts.

Reframe the argument

When addressing unsportsmanlike behavior, it is important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Instead of immediately criticizing the parent’s actions, reframe the conversation by focusing on the well-being of the athletes. Highlight how their behavior affects their own child and the embarrassment it may cause them. This approach may be more likely to resonate with the parent and lead to positive changes.

Avoid confrontation during the game

If you feel that it is appropriate to have a discussion with a parent displaying unsportsmanlike behavior, it is best to do so after the game. During intense competition, emotions can run high, and addressing the issue in the heat of the moment may escalate the situation further. Wait until both parties have had time to cool down and approach the conversation with a calm and collected demeanor.

By following these practical suggestions, parents can help create a culture of sportsmanship in the stands. It is important to remember that the focus of youth sports should be on personal growth, development, and enjoyment for all participants. Let us work together to ensure a positive and supportive environment for young athletes.

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Q: How can talking to my child help address unsportsmanlike behavior from other parents?

A: By having an open and honest conversation with your child about the behavior of others, you can help them understand that it is not a reflection of their own worth. Teaching them to let negative comments roll off their backs at a young age can build resilience and equip them with the skills to handle similar situations in the future.

Q: What should I do if I encounter a parent displaying unsportsmanlike behavior?

A: If you feel comfortable and safe doing so, approach the parent after the game to discuss the issue calmly and respectfully. Avoid confronting them during the game, as emotions may be running high. Additionally, consider involving the coach or another authority figure to help mediate the situation and promote good sportsmanship.


Creating a positive sportsmanship culture in the stands requires effort from parents, coaches, and club directors. By talking to children about the behavior of others, addressing the issue with the coach, reframing the argument, and avoiding confrontation during the game, parents can play an active role in fostering a respectful and supportive environment for young athletes. Let us prioritize personal growth, development, and enjoyment in youth sports, ensuring a positive experience for all involved.

To learn more about sportsmanship and how you can contribute, visit