by Peter Whitehead

Teaching your son to be a good sport (from the sidelines)

Over the past couple of months, the nightmare parent/spectator has raised its ugly head (and voice, fists and even weaponry) across Australia. Reports of adult spectators verbally and physically abusing, coaches, referees and even children are appearing in the media with worryingly frequency.

Obviously most parents play by the rules when it comes to watching their kids play sport. They behave respectfully towards coaches, officials and players, support their and others’ kids, and make sports events a fun – and safe – place for everyone. 

However, with the AFL Grand Final fever running high and many school sports finals on the horizon, here are a 5 reminders to help you be a spectacular spectator, and teach your son to be a good sport from the sidelines.

  1. Support and respect the coach

Attend parent meetings, read the rulebook, have your son arrive to practice on time, and pick him up on time. If you play/played the sport yourself, offer to help out with some practices, with the clear understanding that you are helping the coach, not taking over the coach’s job.

When your child is playing, whether it is at a practice or at a game, let the coach do his or her jobcoach. As a spectator, your job is to watch and positively support your child and the team. Let your son focus on the game he’s playing and leave the instruction to practice sessions or post-game discussions.

  1. Use positive encouragement

If you are an enthusiastic parent who cannot help but cheer for your son (and let’s face it, most of us are), let it out. But make sure you do it in a positive way. Cheer for the whole team, not just your son. And if the other team makes a great play, acknowledge it.

  1. Think long term

From a purely skills-based perspective, remember that the foundations of every sport are developed in the early years. If your son can execute the core skills effectively now, he will have the best chance of success in the future. If coaches feel pressurised by parents to win games above all else, then the tactics will reflect this pressure. These tactics may not necessarily be the best for all the players in the team to develop their skills.

Most importantly, keep in mind that youth sport is about your son’s long-term participation in physical activity and encouraging healthier lifestyle. It is about learning and developing skills, gaining confidence, enhancing self-esteem, displaying sportsmanship, bonding with friends and teammates and having fun, which leads to…

  1. Help your son keep winning in perspective

Kids enjoy learning new skills and getting better at them. They also enjoy having fun while learning. If winning is the only goal, second place becomes the definition of failure. This sets your son up for disappointment, and your son feels like ‘a loser’, he may give up altogether.

Striving to win is not bad for children if we model how to keep winning in perspective. After a game, make sure your son feels loved and appreciated regardless of the outcome. Avoid focusing on winning or losing. Rather ask questions such as “What did you enjoy most about today?” or “what are you most proud of?” After all, it’s school sport. It’s supposed to be fun!

  1. Stand up to those who behave badly

Don’t be a bystander. If you see or hear another spectator behaving badly, have a quiet word with him or her. Most parents are well meaning and will probably be embarrassed by ill-thought-out comments spoken in a moment of passion.


Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School 

Peter Whitehead is Head of Faculty – Health, Physical Education, Wellbeing, Philosophy Ethics Belief at Brighton Grammar – an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about