Former major league pitcher Mitch Williams recently lived up to his "Wild Thing" nickname when he was ejected from his son's youth baseball game for reportedly engaging in a profanity-laced tirade in the face of an umpire. While extreme, the Wild Thing's behavior reflects some parents' inability to appropriately control their emotions and opinions related to their child's sports activities at all levels (I've even experienced it as a college coach). Unfortunately, parents fail to recognize that such behavior negatively impacts their child's performance, self-esteem, behavior, enjoyment of their sport and, even, their college recruiting opportunities.
First and foremost, parents need to realize that it's about their child and not them. Athletes can only serve one master (their coach) while they're competing. The only words that your kids should hear you say are words of encouragement whether directed to them, their teammates, coaches or officials. Coaches, in particular tend to bear an ongoing barrage of complaints and criticism. The vast majority of coaches are likely in it for the well-being of the kids and are acting with best intentions for each athlete and the team. Coaches should be allowed to coach and parents parent. Positive athlete parenting is not lobbying or complaining to the coach or others about your child's playing time, team strategy or the team's performance. It is providing support, encouragement and picking your child up when they fail as well as reaffirming and providing perspective when they succeed. Kids know if they played well or didn't play well -- they don't need an ongoing critique from their parents.
As a former coach, I am particularly sensitive to these issues but I'm a parent of athletes, too. In particular, I recognize that, as a former coach at the college and pro level, if I sit in the stands and say something critical, particularly about the coach, it's going to get back to the coach eventually. Other parents are going to say "George said this" because I've got somewhat of a résumé that everyone puts faith in. Thus, I go out of my way to avoid comments regarding coaching, player performance or officiating. All parents should take this perspective -- anything you say is going to get back to the coach and create disruption and stress for not only the coach but also the team and your child.
Parent histrionics affects the experience of everyone involved -- the coach, the referee, the umpire and, most importantly, your child's experience as an athlete, teammate and their personal development. On some level, it becomes an embarrassment, a distraction to your son or daughter and the team. It also affects your son or daughter's performance, puts undue pressure on them and can ruin their experience and enjoyment of the sport. They will feel like this is the last place they want to be because of how their parents are acting instead of wanting to be there because of their love for the experience and enjoyment of the sport, their team, coaches and the competition. It also gives your kids a poor role model and can generate similar negative behavior as well as an excuse for any shortfall in performance.
Also, don't overlook how this fallout from parent behavior will negatively impact their child's recruiting -- not just in terms of their performance but college coaches will flee a difficult parent situation so as not to allow it to infect their program and culture for all the reasons noted above.
Be accountable as parents so your athlete can be accountable as a kid. Make it a "Child Thing," not a "Wild Thing."