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Negative Parental Impact on Athletes

author image Kay Ireland
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.
Negative Parental Impact on Athletes
Parental involvement may not always be a positive experience. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Parental involvement in children's sports can have both positive and negative influences. Coaches and staff generally want parents to be involved in an athlete's success, but if a parent is a poor influence or even abusive to that child, it can become a negative experience for all parties involved. The wrong type of support can turn a student athlete into a poor sportsman, cause a loss of confidence and even cause a sense of entitlement that could infect the rest of the team.

Too Much Support

A paper for the South Dakota High School Activities Association points out that in past generations of student athletes, children were encouraged to play pickup games separate from parents and coaches. Those games encouraged children to employ problem-solving skills together. Modern athletes often have overzealous parents who are all too eager to defend their child's case to a coach or official, making a child complacent and unable to solve problems on his own. While being supportive is generally a positive facet of parental involvement, being too supportive could result in a child athlete feeling entitled.

Motivation and Pressure

If a child's mother was a star soccer player in her youth, chances are she'll encourage her child to play the same sport. When the child is interested in the sport, that encouragement is a positive experience. When a child is not interested, that "support" soon turns to unwanted pressure. Pressure can often make a child athlete feel forced to both play and perform to satisfy her parents, removing one of the key components of a positive experience in sports: enjoyment.


A child's confidence level results from a delicate balance of skill, support and self-worth. When parents are overly critical of a child's performance, that confidence can be shattered under the threat of pressure. A study published in a 2009 issue of "Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal" found that girls especially were prone to anxiety over performance in sports. Parents who critique from the sidelines and offer critical commentary rather than encouraging words may find that their athletes suffer from performance anxiety and low confidence in sports and other areas of their lives.


When it comes to sportsmanship habits, a parent's influence can be reflected in the way an athlete treats his peers. If the parent heckles opposing players and disrespects the officials and coaches, it teaches his child that it is acceptable behavior. Coaching staff may find it difficult to discipline a child athlete for poor sportsmanship when it's clear the parent is a negative influence on the child's habits.

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