One Boy’s Perspective About Youth Sports

19 03 2010

A colleague sent me this video of a young Canadian hockey player describing his “magic hockey helmet”. I thought I’d pass it along…enjoy!

Speaking of helmets…. stay tuned to this blog for upcoming information on the first-ever Mayo Clinic Ice Hockey Concussion Summit, to be held October 19-20, 2010 in Rochester, MN. I’m on the planning committee and I can tell you the program is excellent!

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Two Triggers of Background Anger in Youth Sports

15 02 2010

Over the weekend a Minnesota sport parent assaulted a youth basketball commissioner following an in-house game played by sixth graders. The the father was disgruntled over the officiating during his son’s game. From some of the research I’ve conducted with colleagues pertaining to what we call “Background Anger” the spark to this parent’s violent behaviors is consistent with our data.

We’ve found that many things make sport parents angry, but two big themes are more likely to set off sport parents: 1) their perceptions of injustice and, 2) their perceptions of incompetence.  This father was was upset because he perceived “the  timekeeping of the game” at the end of overtime was not correct (incompetence), and most likely felt it disadvantaged his son’s team (injustice). Based on what data exists, I would argue this combination of sport parent perceptions along side the fact the game was in overtime and probably emotionally charged, provided a perfect storm for an egregious background anger incident to occur.

Our data shows background anger incidents by sport parents are more likely to occur with travel, not in-house levels of youth sport. However, this example illustrates that no level of youth sport is immune to background anger. Requiring research-based education for sport parents, like Minnesota Parents Learning About Youth Sports (MN PLAYS™) or the MYSA Parents And Coaches Together (PACT™), can help to reduce the liklihood these type of incidents.

To see a video clip of me discussing this issue on Fox News 9, click here.





Happy Sport Parents?

6 10 2009

While most media attention focuses on the negative and angry behaviors of sport parents on youth sport sidelines–not all sport parents are angry and yelling. I have an ongoing research line on the emotional experiences of youth sport parents with some colleagues and students. Last summer we looked at what made sport parents happy; it was a nice change of pace from examining background anger in youth sports.

MCNAIR_Blankenship Poster_2009_Final

Kelli Blankenship, a member of the University of Minnesota Women’s Hockey Team and 2009 McNair Scholar, helped us  analyze the happy parent data. You can see a nice story about her on the U of MN website. We found that child-athlete performances and experiences more frequently made sport parents happy, than did athlete development.  You can see the full results of our poster by clicking on it. We’ll be analyzing the full data set soon, but this will give you a taste of what is to come.





Silent Sidelines: A Band Aid Approach To Controlling Youth Sport Parents

14 07 2009

sideline parents arm around_iStock_000002126386XSmallMany strategies are commonly discussed to help change parental behavior on youth sport sidelines. Such strategies include: developing and enforcing a code of conduct; appointing a volunteer sideline monitor; leveling fines for inappropriate spectator behaviors; restricting spectator interaction with athletes (e.g., fans are required to sit on the opposite side of the soccer field from the coaches and team); restricting attendance (e.g., parents are not allowed to attend competitions or practices), and/or encouraging parents to suck on a lollipop if they feel like screaming at the referee or coaching from the sidelines.

Another strategy that gets quite a bit of attention is restricting spectator behaviors—i.e., “Silent Sidelines” or “Silent Sundays” (see the 2009 Toronto Star article or the 2004 NYT article). After reading yet another article lauding Silent Sidelines I felt compelled to give a critique of this and other strategies. In short, putative parental strategies are a terrible idea and provide a Band Aid solution to a deeper internal, chronic wound—the problems which arise on sidelines as youth sport becomes increasingly professionalized (Note: poor sport behavior of parents is not a new phenomena. For a balanced historical account, read Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession With Youth Sports by Mark Hyman and read his blog on youth sport parents). While reversing the professionalization of youth sport is beyond my capabilities (for now at least!), changing parental sideline behaviors IS possible.

BandAidsMany of these Band Aid strategies are employed without any research-based evidence of effectiveness or consultation from the sport science community. For example, barring parents from competition is not an optimal or effective solution because research indicates that a majority of children and adolescents enjoy when parents attend and watch competitions and parents are a vital source of support for children. The mere act of signing a “code of conduct” does not change behavior because it does not address the underlying or preceding feelings or thoughts of parents. To change behavior, parents must be provided with evidence of how their sideline behaviors—what a colleague and I call “background anger”—affects not only their child, but everyone else in the sport landscape. This information can provide motivation that increases the likelihood of behavioral change. Research seems to indicate that potential negative outcomes from exposure to youth sport background anger may include—anxiety, stress, decreased performance, loss of focus due to distraction by parents, confusion, embarrassment, frustration, less enjoyment, burnout and perhaps even dropout of sport altogether.

The important point here is that a Band Aid approach to changing the climate of youth sport sidelines addresses only the behavior (i.e., don’t yell = complete silence or silence by lollipop). An effective strategy promotes change through education and provides parents with research-based information as to what triggers angry parental responses, why it is important for example, not to yell on the sidelines, and how this behavior can affect everyone. For an exemplar educational program visit the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Educational Series website and stay tuned for new research on the emotional experiences of sport parents and background anger from myself and colleagues of the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium.





What Makes Sport Parents “Angry”?

2 05 2009

angry-man_istock_000005831286xsmall_croppedToday I spent the day finishing up (well almost) a paper on what makes sport parents angry during their child’s sport events. I alluded in my last blog that snacks cause a fair amount of parent anger…now to the main finding. What percentage of sport parents claim they “never get angry”? If you guessed about one third, you would be correct! Now you might be thinking that seems a bit high…I do. I think that almost all sport parents get angry at something at some point during their child’s sporting endeavors. The other two thirds of (honest) parents that do report getting angry have a variety of things that set them off. What or who do you think is the #1 Anger Culprit? If you guessed the Incompetence of the Referee, you would be correct!Football referee blowing whistle Remember though, it is the parent’s perception of incompetence that makes them angry…we don’t know in reality if the referee is truly incompetent or not.

Given that retaining and recruiting youth sport referees is a MAJOR issue—just ask NASO which estimates a ~35% attrition rate each year—could parental anger over referee incompetence be a contributing factor in the high attrition rate? Needless to say that many youth sport referees are adolescents who take on the “job” for the love of the game and quit in part because of the abuse they take from adults on the sidelines. Obviously, yelling at the referee is not unique to youth sports but it does become a more important issue when children and youth are the indirect (as athletes) and direct (as the referee) recipients of angry yelling. Yelling at the referee is also the #1 most frequent “bad” or “poor” sport behavior on youth sport sidelines reported from the perspective of youth athletes, parents, and coaches alike. What I’ve found interesting in the 4-5 studies I’ve done in the context of youth sport is that the referee ALWAYS comes up as a source of contention. There is a future research question in here somewhere…..but you’d be surprised at how little research has been done on referees or taken the referee perspective into account. More to come in the future on “what makes sport parents angry”…..