I officially became a “soccer mom” last year when my eight-year-old daughter joined the town soccer team. She loves playing the sport and interacting with the other girls. Being part of the team has entailed traveling to other towns. Sometimes we’ve witnessed other games in progress while waiting for her game to begin, and I’ve been shocked to see parents yelling aggressively at either kids or the coach.

Recently, in Braintree, Massachusetts, a girl’s basketball high school coach quit due to parent complaints. The coach helped bring the team two back-to-back Division 1 state championships and had a 63 game winning streak, yet the parents were still dissatisfied.

Research at the University of Maryland found that 53 percent of parents reported feeling angry during their child’s soccer game. This is an issue in many towns across America. Why?

Social media

In Braintree, the parents created an email exchange complaining about their child’s playing time. The coach grew tired of dealing with the parent complaints, which resulted in her resignation.

Studies have found that people tend to bully online because they are not held accountable. Social media and email messages lack tone and body language, causing miscommunication. Also, if someone sends an angry message, the person receiving it can read it over and over again, resulting in hurt feelings.

High college costs

According to College Data, a public college tuition can cost an average of $24,610 per year and a private college averaged $49,320. With the high costs of education, parents want or need their child to receive scholarships. The pressure of winning a scholarship from playing a sport has led to parents who either have unrealistic expectations or become angry when their child isn’t participating.

High cost of sports

Participation in sports can be expensive. Players are required to purchase sports gear and usually pay a fee for being on a team, even in public schools. According to research at the University of Michigan Health System, on average, a player had to pay a $125 participation fee and $275 for sports equipment and travel.

When a child played baseball 30 years ago, the team often shared a helmet and bat. Now, most players have two bats, their own helmet, batting gloves, and a baseball bag. When a parent pays these high costs, they feel they should be getting their money’s worth, so when their child doesn’t play, they get angry at the coach.

Parent personality

Research by Goldstein found control-oriented parents are more angry and aggressive during their child’s sporting events than autonomy-oriented parents. A control-oriented parent is concerned about other people’s opinions and motivated by external forces, whereas an autonomy-oriented parent is driven by their own goals.

During games, control-oriented parents tend to take things personally. For example, if a coach pulls their child from the game, this type of parent may feel it is a personal attack against their child rather than an impartial decision by the coach.

Parents living vicariously through their child

Often parents relive their childhood experiences through their children. If a parent was unsuccessful at a sport and their child excels in this sport, they might experience the feeling of success they never could as a child.

Research by Brummelman found that parents who see themselves in their child want their child to fulfill their unfulfilled ambitions. This may cause parents to pressure their child to succeed, and they may become angry when their child makes mistakes during the game. If the parent feels their child isn’t getting enough play time, they may get angry at the coach, as was the case in Braintree.

Unrealistic parent expectations

Parents can hold unrealistic expectations about their child’s abilities in sports. A parent may consider their child to be the best on the team or think their child will be a professional athlete one day. This viewpoint can cause conflicts between the parent and coach. Here are a few helpful reminders to keep things civil:

  • Most coaches volunteer or are paid a small stipend. The coach is usually interested in helping your child and their team have a positive experience.
  • When on the sidelines, refrain from criticizing the coach or players. Your role should be to support the team.
  • If you have an issue with another parent or coach, speak to the person directly about it. Don’t use social media to air your grievances.
  • Before speaking to the coach, allow yourself time to calm down by waiting 24 hours after the incident. Schedule a time to meet instead of trying to speak with the coach after the game.
  • Playing on a sports team should be a fun experience for your child and the coach.
  • Try to put things in perspective and remind yourself this experience is for your child, not you.
  • When you get angry at the coach, you ultimately hurt your child by causing embarrassment and resentment. Research by Omli & Wiese-Bjornstal found that kids prefer supportive parents rather than angry ones at sporting events.
  • There is no “I” in team. A coach tries to make decisions based on what is best for the team – not only your child.
  • When you tell your child what to do from the sidelines, you are implying they don’t know how to play the game.
  • If you tend to get angry easily, practice anger management techniques, such as deep breathing or counting to 10.

What you can do to prevent your coach from quitting

  • If a parent complains to you about the coach, encourage him or her to discuss it directly with the coach.
  • Be respectful.
  • Offer to assist or help out with practices or communication with parents.
  • Praise the coach when he or she is doing a good job.
  • Show gratitude for the coach. A simple thank you can mean a lot.