Coaches (and parents) get to deal with a lot of different parent personalities on the sidelines and throughout the season. Some will leave you shaking your head; others wishing every parent shared their good sense and commitment.
Where do you stack up? Here is a list of the different types of sports parents found lining the soccer fields, baseball dugouts, basketball courts, and lacrosse fields. You may recognize parts of yourself and others in more than one category. Parents who exhibit any of these characteristics excessively (with the exception of the Example Parent) can become a concern and may need to be dealt with for the sake of your team and sanity.
1. The Exemplary Parent
With any luck, most of your parents will resemble The Exemplary Parent more so than any other description.
The Exemplary Parent:
- Has their son or daughter at every practice and every game on time, shoes tied and ready to play with proper equipment/uniform. They also let you know when their child won’t be there and they make their payments on time.
- Supports their child on and off the sports field. They encourage, respect, and display enthusiasm for their child’s effort win or lose.
- Is happy to help out others on the team—with rides to and from games, encouragement during the game, an extra water bottle, postgame treat, etc. They pick up the slack for other parents.
- Helps make the coach’s job easier. Whether it’s planning the tournament tailgate, end of season party, or team fundraiser, they get involved in the best way possible.
- Is on the sideline at most if not all games, and they make their child’s sports participation a priority for themselves and their child.
- Stands behind the coach’s decisions with respect to their child as long as they see them as justified and fair. They may not always agree with the decision, but they do not interfere or attempt to “coach” against the instructions of the real coach.
- Are the parents you regularly interact with, who always offer their assistance and willingly volunteer. Their kids are generally happy to be on the team and are easy to coach.
- Genuinely desire for each member of the team and the team as a whole to succeed. They applaud the success of others, not just their own child.
2. The Uber-Competitive Parent
Many people are just naturally competitive. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, academics, fundraising, or a game of cards. They are compelled to come out on top whatever the situation or challenge. Many are former athletes with a competitive spirit that just won’t quit. This isn’t usually a problem unless their competitiveness starts to negatively affect their child or other players and parents.
The Uber-Competitive Parent:
- Values winning above all else. “Did you win?” is always the first question they ask. They don’t care about equal playing time, fun, or the experience. They just want the win and will do so at all costs.
- Expects their child to compete at the highest level they can to succeed. They expect their child to play tough, hustle, and do what it takes to try and win the game.
- Becomes frustrated when they perceive a lack of effort or desire to win on their child’s part or that of another child on the team. May even chastise their child for not trying harder during a practice or game. They have a difficult time understanding when someone else doesn’t share their same drive to win.
- May talk to the coach about things he or she sees the team/players are doing wrong and what he/she thinks should be done so the team can win. May even offer to help “coach”, especially when the sport being played is one he/she played at a higher level.
Watch out for the Uber-Competitive Parent mixed with one of the other archetypes. He or she can become a nuisance.
3. The “Whatever” Parent
This parent doesn’t care whether their child enjoys the sport or even gets playing time, but signed him/her up just the same. Practices and games aren’t a priority, particularly if they conflict with another activity. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. The “Whatever” Parent”:
- Doesn’t support or criticizes their son or daughter. Will drive their child to practice when convenient and pick them up when convenient as well. Could be well after practice ends. They don’t talk to the coach or other parents and have very little to say about practices or games.
- Doesn’t get involved in team activities. Won’t attend end of season parties, fundraisers, or sit through practices. They show up to games on occasion.
- Isn’t concerned about their child’s effort or status on the team. They are non-committal about things and frequently don’t respond about their child’s availability for a tournament or game. They are generally very passive and not reliable, which can be frustrating to a coach.
4. The “I’m Living Vicariously Through My Child” Parent
These guys are everywhere, and many of us have at least a touch of this archetype in us. When we see potential in our own children, it is hard to stifle the desire to see them push boundaries and accomplish more than we did as athletes and in life.
If this parent gets too carried away, it can be a problem. This parent puts lots of pressure on their child to contribute on the sports field and play up to their ability. They can be team hoppers—always pushing their child to try out for more competitive teams. Unfortunately, sometimes the parent’s passion is the only thing keeping a child in the sport.
The “I’m Living Vicariously Through My Child” Parent:
- Can be found telling their children (and anyone else who will listen) – “ Back when I played, we used to . . . “
- Gets frustrated when their child doesn’t exhibit the kind of hunger or effort they expect
- Can be critical of new coaching styles/techniques and often pushes their child to do things they way they learned when they played the sport.
- Is usually more unbearable when they played the same sport their child is playing now.
- Every coach has had one of these on the sidelines.
5. The Outspoken Parent
This particular parent can be your best friend or your worst enemy. They aren’t afraid to speak their minds. If they are your advocate . . . life is good. If not, they can be a worthy adversary.
This parent may be difficult if they also exhibit negative or critical behavior.
The Outspoken Parent:
- Has no problem embarrassing or calling out their child in front of other teammates and parents if they think they aren’t doing something they should be on the playing field (or really, anywhere else in life).
- If they don’t agree with something you’re doing as a coach, they have no qualms about telling you . . . in front of others, right after the game. They also don’t have a problem confronting other parents, officials, parents from the other team, etc. which makes them a real wildcard.
- Will defend their son or daughter to the bitter end, regardless of the situation. They may even tell you you are wrong despite bountiful evidence to the contrary. They stand behind their child no matter what.
- Positive + Outspoken is a great combination and helpful in creating great team spirit, but Negative + Outspoken can be a nightmare to contend with. You can always expect their candid opinion no matter the issue at hand.
6. The ”Coach” Parent:
The “Coach” Parent is a double-edged sword. If they share your coaching philosophy and techniques, they can be supportive, but if not, they may undermine what you are trying to do. This can be particularly challenging if this parent played the sport at a high level or has significant coaching experience. Sometimes other parents will begin to respect his/her opinion more than the actual coach’s. This obviously causes problems in team dynamics. They are likely to do the majority of their “coaching” when you are absent or from the opposite sideline.
The ”Coach” Parent:
- Likes to inform other parents and anyone else who will listen what should have been done in any given game situation that didn’t pan out as planned.
- Has a tendency to tell their own child (and sometimes others) what he/she should be doing in the game from the sidelines during games. Sometimes their advice will match up with the coaches, but often times it will conflict.
- Will talk to you after the game or send you a detailed email with a list of what they saw going wrong and how they think it should be corrected. They usually have specific ideas about who should be playing where and exactly what you need to be doing to start winning games.
The son or daughter of the “Coach” Parent can sometimes be heard saying “that’s not how my mom/dad taught me”.
7. The Critic
The Critic is NEVER happy. Even when they like something, there is still something about it they don’t like. If the team scores a goal, but the ref misses a call during the play, rather than focus on the positive, they will continue to complain about the ref’s missed call, how things could have gone a different way, etc.
- Feels free to criticize everyone and anyone—other parents, opposing team’s parents, kids, refs, other coaches, league coordinators, whoever. This can cause lots of friction on the sidelines and on the team. Most parents stay out of it when a parent is critical of his/her own child, but are very sensitive when a parent is criticizing other players on the team.
- A Critic who is also Outspoken can be disaster combination and really put a damper on team spirit. You’ll frequently see other parents start to make an intentional effort to NOT sit within earshot of the Critic during games. The barrage of negative comments can become overwhelming.
8. “My Child is a Star” Parent
He or she can be a thorn in the side of coaches and other parents. This parent believes that his/her child is the star of the team, and the key to a winning season. Sometimes this can be the case, but more often than not, the parent has an inflated view of their athlete’s skill and contributions. This can create tension, particularly when their child is truly not any better than most of the other players. You can expect this parent to:
- Constantly discuss how much/how little playing time their child is getting—with other parents and coaches
- Pressure coaches to ensure their child is set ahead of other players on the team
- Put down, blame, or make negative comments about other players who are substituted in place of their child or get more playing time than they deserve (in his or her opinion)– “why did the coach put him/her in?”
- Not volunteer to help the team, coach, or other players in any capacity, believing their child’s superior athletic contribution is sufficient enough.
- Push and pressure their child to reach their full potential, usually to the detriment of the child
- Team hop
Some coaches look forward to these types of players trying out for other organizations. It’s usually a lesson in reality for this parent when their child doesn’t make a top level team—although he/she will have a litany of excuses for why this didn’t happen.
Coaches and parents on the sidelines need to do their best to tactfully handle parents who get too out of hand before the behavior affects team morale. It isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly necessary.