Parents in sport

Last updated: 13 Apr 2017
Promoting positive parental behaviour

Parents play a pivotal role in encouraging and supporting their child’s participation, success and fun when playing sport. 

Therefore, it’s essential that sports clubs communicate regularly with parents so that both coach and parent work towards the same goals. 

To raise awareness of this, every October we mark Parents in Sport Week, which focuses on the role of the sporting parent in helping young people reach their full potential.

We have also created information pages for parents to highlight what parents can do to best support their child in sport.

Importance of parents in sport

Parents, through their support, encouragement and understanding, help their children have fun and reach their potential in their chosen sport.

Parents can be a positive role model for their children and the team, by showing supporting and motivating behaviour on the sidelines as a spectator.

Parents can become key allies for your club by providing support with transport, helping with activities, training to become coaches or helping with other activities to benefit the club such as fundraising.

Role of sports organisations

Sports organisations need to raise awareness with their coaches of the crucial role a parent has in helping a child reach their full potential.

To assist in this, we've produced a number of resources for clubs to use when providing messages to parents, as well as to their own coaches.

Further resources

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Why parents are great for sport

Parents are great for sport

Everyone involved in sport for young people should be committed to ensuring that children's participation is supported.

Why parents are important

Parents play an important role in sport because they:

  • encourage their children to take up, enjoy and achieve in their sport
  • support their children in practical ways – such as by providing transport or buying kit
  • help out with activities
  • become coaches, helpers and volunteers within the club
  • help out with things such as club websites and fundraising
  • support and motivate their child and/or the team
  • reinforce positive aspects of sports participation

Helping children reach their full potential

To continue to ensure a child reaches their full potential and enjoys their time playing sport, parents need to consider:

  • what do they want their child to get out of sport? Is it the same as what their child wants?
  • do they understand what their child is trying to achieve and what support they need to achieve this?
  • are they being the best role model they can be to help their child enjoy their sporting experience?
  • are they focused on their child's development and enjoyment?

One young person said:

“My dad’s the best role model I could ask for. He was always on the touchline giving me great support and always encouraging me on – really good, really positive. He’s just an inspiration for me.”

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Poor behaviour and its effects

Poor parental behaviour and its effects on children in sport

Often, complaints and concerns arise about the negative behaviour of some parents and the impact this can have on their own and other children, coaches, officials and the club itself.

The behaviour of some parents can be challenging. They may:

  • get carried away on the sidelines – leading to intimidating, aggressive, threatening or abusive behaviour towards their own or other children, coaches, officials or other parents and spectators
  • push their child to achieve in sport while neglecting other aspects of their lives
  • have a ‘win at all costs’ approach to their child’s participation in sport
  • have aspirations for, or expectations of, their child that are not realistic or that differ from those of the club
  • are verbally or physically abusive towards their own or other children during or following competitions
  • make negative comments about their child or other children’s efforts, or mock and humiliate them
  • threaten or fight with coaches, officials or other spectators
  • contradict the advice of the coach

John, who has coached a team for the last 8 years, said:

"I've seen parents running onto the pitch and start fights with other parents. I've been to matches where supporters for the other team have been verbally abusing my players and I've had to speak to that team's coach about getting those parents under control."

Other coaches have said:

“His dad was shouting ‘you’re a disgrace to the family’.”

“The opposition coach shouted at the referee and one of our parents started shouting at the opposition coach. The official couldn’t control it and the next thing parents were squaring up – all a bit mental and scary.”

Effects of poor parental behaviour

Poor parental behaviour can affect young participants in a variety of ways:

  • threatening words or behaviour, regardless of who this is directed at, are frightening and upsetting for children
    • behaviour such as this certainly contravenes the parents' (and spectators') code of conduct that many clubs and sports have in place
    • in extreme cases, it may also constitute criminal actions that result in the involvement of the police
  • shouting from the side-lines may disrupt the attention of players on the pitch
  • parental ‘advice’ may distract players or athletes from what the coach is telling them, particularly if they're giving conflicting information
  • children can be embarrassed by parents who draw attention to themselves in negative ways
  • children may be worried that their parent’s behaviour will annoy the coach or affect their selection for the team
  • consistently bad parental behaviour can lead to the child’s exclusion from their sport
  • focus on the sports activities at the expense of other aspects of the child’s life can put undue pressure upon the child, impact upon their social and educational development and potentially lead to disappointment if the child does not meet expectations 
  • negative feedback to a child can undermine their confidence, with the possible result that the child underperforms or withdraws from the sport

We've created a number of scenarios of poor parental behaviour as an aid to discussion about how to handle this issue.

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What sports clubs can do

What sports clubs can do

Here, we list positive actions that sports organisations and clubs can take to encourage parents to support their children in a manner that's of benefit to everyone.

However, you may face situations where you need to deal more directly with problematic spectator behaviour, even to the point of sanctions. 

Encourage positive parental participation

Parents play a pivotal role in sport. There are a number of ways that clubs and coaches can encourage their involvement in a way that benefits their child, as well as the rest of the team or organisation. To get parents on board, you can:

  • provide information about the club’s ethos, rules and expectations 
  • let parents know who to contact for information, feedback and offers of support
  • communicate clear expectations of parents (including online behaviour), which they are required to sign up to – for example, a parents’ code of conduct
  • inform parents about the expectations of coaches and participants
  • develop relationships with parents to encourage their positive involvement and make use of their skills to support the club
  • inform parents about processes to raise, discuss or report concerns or issues about which they're unhappy
  • use a range of means to inform parents and young people about expected standards of behaviour, including induction information, meetings, and leaflets, posters and newsletters
  • provide reminders to parents that they are role models for the children
  • communicate the message that sport is fun

Manage challenging parental behaviour

In order to address concerns that may arise, clubs should:

  • promote the club's code of conduct for parents, so they know what behaviour is expected of them and the consequences of breaching this – and get this signed
  • establish a well-publicised process to investigate and respond to concerns or complaints 
  • promote values such as respect and listening to each other throughout the club
  • explain to parents why certain behaviour is unhelpful
  • encourage parental encouragement as opposed to criticism
  • model positive behaviour by coaches and officials within the club, such as encouraging fair play and applauding opponents
  • increase the distance between spectators and the pitch or court
  • provide information for children and parents about who they can talk to if they have concerns 
  • have a designated safeguarding person other than the coach or referee
  • provide support for the officials through assistants – this is particularly important in the case of young officials
  • take advantage of support from the sport’s governing body

Establish sanctions for parents

Sanctions should be identified and agreed by the management committee, and communicated to all parties. If poor behaviour persists, sanctions may include:

  • monitoring behaviour by a club official, or welfare or safeguarding officer
  • not allowing an individual to be court, pool or pitch-side during a match or matches
  • barring an individual from attending at all – preferably by making alternative arrangements for their child to get to and from the club or venue

Every effort should be made to ensure that the behaviour of a parent does not result in their child being unable to participate, although in some extreme cases this may be the final resort.

One coach said:

"My policy is that there's nothing wrong with shouting encouragement from the side-lines, but if there are any negative comments, that spectator is asked to leave."

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For help in encouraging the positive involvement of parents and other spectators, youth sports clubs and organisations may wish to take a look at the following resources.

If you're a parent, find out what you can do to support your child on our information for parents pages.

CPSU resources

CPSU videos and recordings

Other resources


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