I was only seven years old when I flubbed a play and my baseball coach yelled at me. With good intentions, my father came out of the stands to defend me, letting the coach know what he thought about a coach yelling at a kid. The situation got heated; my father was physically pulled back.
I stopped playing baseball after that incident. It was no longer fun for me, and I would not play another game until adult softball later in life.
As an elementary-school physical education teacher, I have seen too many situations, in the news and in person at youth sports, where a parent behaves inappropriately —yelling at the referee, yelling at a child for poor performance, arguing with parents of opposing teams.
In the short term, this can cause the child to display outward behaviors of anger, regression, and sadness; in the long term, a lack of self-confidence. According to Livestrong, “Children who are victims of verbal abuse rarely see themselves as worthy individuals. Their perception of themselves instead is of an insignificant being who lacks the ability to impact his society.”
When a parent yells at his or her child because of a mistake, or even to catch the pass, throw the ball, or run faster, the message to the child is: You are not good enough. Heard over and over again, the child believes this and internalizes it in other areas of life. This can greatly affect children’s ability to find success through self-belief and leave them vulnerable.
Aggression is a common long-term side effect for children who are yelled at frequently, especially from a young age. I see this in my teaching and on the playing field. According to Adults and Children Together Against Violence, “Children who have been shouted at regularly are likely to display aggressive behaviors themselves.” This can lead to problems with social interaction, learning, job performance and healthy adult relationships. Moreover, children who are yelled at become afraid. The Women’s and Children’s Health Network says, “Young children often are frightened of loud voices, particularly if these are deep.” This kind of fear can cause children problems forming friendships and handling conflicts.
According to The Children’s Advocacy Center of Osceola County, children who learned to “tune out” shouting do so to defend themselves against verbal assault. This defense mechanism has a negative effect later as problems with focusing develop. Imagine a child in school who hears children yelling at recess and teachers barking orders in the classroom. They are more likely to “tune out” and less likely to learn, which can affect their place in life as an adult.
Parents want their best for their children. They want to see them do well and succeed. Some parents may dream of superstar status for their child. In the moment, an excited, frustrated, or overbearing parent may lash out at their child while attending their sporting event. One time may not be the tipping point for most children. However, when the pattern is repeated consistently over a long period of time, the effects on a child’s psyche are life altering.
Playing sports is part of a healthy developmental experience for a child both physically and mentally. Parents, let the coaches coach, and let the children play. When your child messes up, and they will, remind him or her that you love him or her no matter what, and then take the time to calmly teach them how to improve so they learn from their mistakes. Failing is an integral part of success. Sports are about having a good time, making friends, improving overall good health, and learning new skills.
Next time your child messes up, don’t do what my father did. He wishes he would have handled the situation very differently. Instead, he would have dealt with the coach privately and had a conversation with me about dealing with mistakes and mean people. What a great teachable moment! And who knows, maybe I would have wound up not waiting until adulthood to give the sport another try. Become a successful youth sports parent, and do right by your child because your behavior has ripple effects beyond the moment.