Parents’ Sideline Comments:
Exploring the Reality of a Growing Issue
Lindsey C. Blom, Ed.D.
Dan Drane, Ph.D.
School of Human Performance and Recreation
The University of Southern University
School of Human Performance and Recreation
The University of Southern University
Dan Drane, Ph.D.
Empirical data on spectators’ comments at youth sporting events is negligible, while the anecdotal reports over overwhelming. Only three studies have been conducted over the past 25 years, with the most recent study on American parents over 20 years ago. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to use The Parent Observation Instrument for Sport Events to explore the nature of parental comments. Analysis of the comments of 110 parents at recreational youth games revealed that about 31% of the comments were reinforcing in nature (generally considered positive) while 28% were correcting in nature (generally considered negative). Chi square analysis of the data revealed that there were more significantly more positive comments made at girls’ events than boys’ events, but mothers and fathers did not differ in their comments.
Over 25 million children participate in community-based sports leagues in the United States, and these children are governed by 3 million adults who are shaping the learning environment (National Council of Youth Sport, 2001). Adult involvement can be a discernable determinant of a child’s sport experience; therefore, shaping the positive or negative consequences that result from participation. Parents comprise the majority of these adults, and sport constitutes a preponderance of the interactions between parents and children (Turman, 2007). Parents are needed to provide financial, emotional, and physical support (Wuerth, Lee, & Alfermann, 2004); sometimes the support is helpful in the development of the athlete and the creation of a positive environment, while other times it is not (Hansell, 1982; Stein, Raedeke & Glenn, 1999).
Positive parent support is related to positive sport experiences for children. When parents facilitate athletic participation and performance, they have been shown to increase the athletes’ enjoyment (Leff & Hoyle, 1997), self-worth (Anderson, 2005; Leff & Hoyle), performance (Leff & Hoyle), sport enthusiasm (Power & Woolger, 1994), and competence motivation (Babkes & Weiss, 1999). More specifically, when parents demonstrate belief in their child’s physical competency and give positive contingent responses to success, children are more likely to enjoy playing, prefer sport challenges, and have higher perceived competence and higher levels of intrinsic motivation (Babkes & Weiss). On the other hand, when parents hold goals for their children that are unrealistic or outcome focused, they may interfere with their child’s sport enjoyment (Power & Woolger). Parental pressure has also been shown to decrease enjoyment, especially in girls, and increase anxiety, especially in boys (Anderson). Furthermore, recent research has shown that when involvement is too high or too low, the parental behavior can lead to increased stress and reduced enjoyment by youth (Anderson; Hansell, 1982; Wuerth et al., 2004). Children who are participating in this pressure filled, negative sporting environment are at risk for dropping out (Petlichkoff, 1993); therefore, adults involved in youth sport need to be cognizant of the learning environment that they are creating.
Parental involvement can be displayed through various behaviors. During competitions, parental involvement is most commonly demonstrated through verbal and non-verbal sideline behaviors. The empirical research on behavioral assessment of parents at youth sporting events is sparse (Apache, 2006). Researchers must rely on reports from popular media, anecdotal evidence, and youth sport participant perceptions. Negative reports from the popular media are the most common forms of information on parental behavior; they have depicted images of violent and malicious parents. Examples of recent stories include a 36-year-old California father running onto the field to tackle a player on the opposing team; a parent of a 10-year-old hockey player beating the team coach to death; a father shaking his 10-year-old daughter’s face mask at a hockey game; and a soccer dad punching a 14-year-old in face, because he had scuffled with his son over the ball.
Individuals involved in youth sport also believe there is a growing problem with the sideline behavior of parents (Bigelow, 2005; Citizenship Through Sports Alliance, 2005). A panel of youth sport experts rated parental behavior and involvement in youth sport as unacceptable and needing improvement in the 2005 Youth Sports National Report Card (Citizenship Through Sports Alliance). This expert panel, composed of individuals from all over the US with diverse experiences dealing with youth sport, evaluated community based youth sport programs for kids 6 to 14 years and demonstrated concern that youth sport has lost child-centered focus and become too specialized and over interested in parents. This perception is supported by youth sport adults (e.g. coaches, parents, officials, administrators). Forty-one percent of individuals who participated in an online survey rated the behaviors of parents at games as a “problem,” while forty-six percent stated that parent misbehavior and over-involvement was a top negative aspect of youth sport programs (Bigelow). Sixty-two percent of them would like to see more programs to help improve parent behavior.
Children also perceive these negative parental behaviors; a study of youth tennis players revealed that one-third of the children indicated that their parents embarrassed them during matches (DeFrancesco & Johnson, 1997). The most common forms of embarrassing behaviors were yelling from the stands and walking away from the court; a less common behavior, yet quite disturbing, was hitting the athlete in front of others (DeFrancesco & Johnson). The media, youth sport experts, youth sport adults, and young athletes seem to have similar perceptions of the significance of parental behavior in youth sport. However, observational research is limited on parent sideline behaviors, and, although extreme incidents of violence and intense aggression are rare, it is necessary to understand the more subtle, typical behavior of a youth sport spectator (Wann, Merrill, Russell, & Pease, 2001).
Physical educators have used activity and sport settings to evaluate verbal and nonverbal interactions between teachers and students for years (Apache, 2006), but only three studies over the past 25 years were found to have used systematic observational research methods to examine spectators at youth sporting events (Kidman, McKenzie, & McKenzie, 1999; Randall & McKenzie, 1987; Walley, Graham, & Forehand, 1982). Caution should be used in comparing the results from these studies, because the researchers utilized different observation instruments, methodology, and coding categories.
The main area of interest regarding parental sideline behaviors is the nature of the feedback given by parents. Typically, the nature of feedback is categorized into three main groups: positive, negative, and neutral. Positive comments are statements that are helpful to the target; negative comments are harmful, and neutral comments have little to no effect on the target (Kidman, McKenzie, & McKenzie, 1999; Randall & McKenzie, 1987; Walley et al., 1982). The early studies found that most of the verbal comments of parents were neutral in nature, 67% (Walley et al.) and 74% (Randall & McKenzie). Kidman et al. found that 250 New Zealand parents from 7 different types of recreational youth sporting events only spent 18.3% of their verbal time expressing neutral content. The New Zealand parents’ comments were 47.2% positive and 34.5% negative; both categories had higher percentages than the other two studies. Walley et al. coded 30.5% of the comments as positive and only 2.5 % as negative, while Randall and McKenzie coded even less positive comments (19.8%), but more negative comments (5.8%).
Comparing the above-mentioned percentages of comments in each category must be done with caution, because the types of comments have been categorized differently. While researchers generally agree on the generic categories of comments (i.e. positive, negative), they debate the specific types of comments that comprise each category. The most highly debated type of comment is the correcting or instructing comment (e.g. “hit it,” or “pass it”). Walley et al. (1982) placed this type of comment and hustle type of comment (e.g. “come on,” or “let’s go) in the neutral category. Randall and McKenzie (1987) did not completely agree with their classification system; they placed the instructional type of comment in its own category. In more recent years, researchers have begun to view instructional comments from spectators (i.e. coaching from the stands) as a negative behavior because it can decrease the decision-making process of the athlete (Kidman et al., 1999).
The debate over the classification of instructional (i.e. coaching) comments from spectators exists, because augmented feedback is a recommended teaching behavior, but it is argued whether or not instruction from spectators is actually helpful to athletes during play. Augmented feedback, which is information that is “. . . outside the person’s own sensory feedback system,” (Magill, 1998, p. 185) can be helpful in learning physical skills (e.g. Newell, 1974) and enhancing skill acquisition (e.g. Newell, Quinn, Sparrow, & Walter, 1983); thus, it is appropriately categorized as a “positive” sideline behavior from parents. However, it may hinder skill development when it is offered during skill performance (e.g. Annett, 1959), given after every practice trial (e.g. Winstein & Schmidt, 1990), or provided erroneously (e.g. Buekers, Magill, & Hall, 1992), which are the typical scenarios at youth sporting events. When athletes become dependent on external feedback, they do not learn to use appropriate sensory feedback characteristics, so they have delays in skill development. Spectators and parents who consistently provide performance feedback to athletes may be, in fact, hindering their performance. In this case, it would be correctly classified as a “negative” sideline behavior.
Because parents do not only direct their comments at their son or daughter, the target of sideline comments is another area of interest for researchers. Walley et al. (1982) found that 97% of the time spectators’ comments were directed at their own child or child’s team, which may seem contrary to media reports of parental sideline behaviors in the current decade. More surprisingly, they found that only 1.8% of the time comments were directed at umpires, and no comments were directed at coaches. These findings may have been found due to the low competitive level and limited time and expense requirement associated with t-ball leagues (Walley et al.)
It has also been found that the most comments occur when teams are winning (Randall & McKenzie, 1987). During youth soccer games, 42.3% of the comments were recorded when the supported team was ahead of the other team, while only 24.1% of the comments occurred when the team was behind in the game (Randall & McKenzie). Furthermore, more positive and negative comments occurred when the team was winning, and more instructional comments occurred when the team was tied.
Demographic variables, such as the sex of the parent (Randall & McKenzie, 1987), the age of the athletes (Randall & McKenzie), and the sport (Kidman et al., 1999) have been found to influence the frequency of the comment valence. In examining the effect of spectator sex on the nature of comments, females have been found to be slightly more frequent and instructional with their comments than male spectators (Randall & McKenzie). However, male spectators had a higher frequency of positive and negative comments than females.
In summary, empirical data on spectators’ comments at youth sporting events is negligible, while the anecdotal reports over overwhelming. Only three studies have been conducted over the past 25 years, with the most recent study on American parents over 20 years ago. Overall, the most current study involved observing parents from New Zealand; the results may or may not be generalizable to the parent sideline behavior phenomenon in the United States. Furthermore, the comparisons that past researchers have made on the demographic correlates of athletes and spectators have only been comparisons of percentages, not statistical analyses. This study was designed to address these research gaps through the exploration of the nature (i.e. category of comment content), target (i.e. intended recipient of comment), and event (i.e. actions occurring at the moment the comment is made) of parental comments at recreational youth sporting events in the southern United States. More specifically, researchers investigated these questions: 1) What types of comments are parents expressing at youth sporting events? 2) Who are parents addressing with their comments? 3) How do game events relate to parental comments? 4) Are there differences between mothers and fathers and the nature of their comments? and 5) Are there differences between the nature of comments at girls and boys’ sporting events?
The study took place in two southern Mississippi counties, approximately 75 miles from the Gulf Coast, with an estimated combined population of 120,000 (73.5% White, 24% Black, 1.5% Hispanic, 1% other). The average household income between the two counties is $34,000. The participants were 60 moms and 42 dads, who attended their children’s community-based recreational sporting events in basketball (n = 54), soccer (n =26), or baseball/softball (n = 22). The teams were comprised of athletes between the ages of 6 and 14. A total of 51 games, 21 girls’ games and 30 boys’ games, were observed; two parents were observed at each game. Because data was collected using unobtrusive naturalistic observational methods, more specific demographic information of the participants could not be accurately obtained.
The Parent Observation Instrument for Sport Events (POISE) (Kidman & McKenzie, 1996), a descriptive tool for observing and recording individual parents’ comments in a naturalistic setting, was used in this study. This instrument is designed to allow the observer to hand record the comment, and then to code the target, the simultaneously occurring events, and the nature of the comments. See Kidman et al. (1999) for more detailed information on the format of the instrument. Construct validity was established through the use of experts (Kidman et al.).
Observer Training. Five doctoral students and two faculty members received POISE training. This group attended an initial instruction session on using the observation instrument; then, they independently recorded and coded comments from a 30-minute taped sporting event. Upon completion of this independent recording session, the group met again to clarify the coding process and compare reports. Then, observers attended live sporting events in pairs, where they independently recorded and coded the comments of two parents.
Reliability. Consistent decision-making by coders is an essential requisite of the observation method of collecting data. According to Stempel (2003), with this type of study, the researcher must be mindful of reliability. Reliability is the measurement that determines if the coders, working independently of each other, measured the variables consistently. Therefore, reliability in observation analysis relies on the concept of intercoder reliability. A third party researcher conducted random interobserver agreement checks between the pairs to ensure agreement of the data. The following interobserver agreements were found: comment content = .82, target = .84, event = .92, and comment category = .85. The standard number for corrections for chance agreement is around .70 (Riffe, Lacy, & Fico, 1998). Overall, the observations were consistent, and it is reasonable to state that the protocol definitions and procedures were reasonably applied.
Design and Procedures
Due to the fact that some respondents may not be totally candid with their responses in questionnaires or interviews, the researchers utilized the observational research technique of unobtrusive language analysis to collect data for this study. Parents of youth at sporting events were observed, and their verbal comments were recorded. The tallying, or frequency-counting, method was employed to determine the target, event, and category of each comment. Two individuals, who were sitting in close proximity to each other and could be observed in an inconspicuous manner, were selected for each observation. Observers placed themselves behind the selected individuals, so they could hear comments without being noticed. Observers independently recorded every comment that could be heard by the 2 selected individuals for 30 minutes.
Frequencies for comment, target, and event category codes were tabulated to analyze research question 1 (i.e. What types of comments are parents expressing at youth sporting events?), question 2 (i.e. Who are parents addressing with their comments?), and question 3 (i.e. How do game events relate to parental comments?), respectively. Research questions 4 (Are there differences between mothers and fathers and the nature of their comments?) and 5 (Are there differences between the nature and target of comments at girls and boys’ sporting events?) were examined via chi-square analyses to explore independent sample differences; due to the fact that some expected frequencies were small, p < .01 was set as the significance level to minimize the chance of a Type I error (McCall, 2001).
Nature of Comments
The nature of parents’ comments was analyzed on two levels: the disposition of the comment and the specific type of comment. Frequency analysis showed that 1269 (51.9%) of the comments were positive in disposition, 786 (32.1%) were negative, and 389 (15.9%) were neutral. Positive comments included reinforcing and hustling comments, such as, “Go Gracie,” “Common on, guys,” “Good work,” and “Yea, nice job.” Negative comments were correcting, scolding, or sarcastic (i.e. witicism) in nature; for example,“ Put your hands in the air,” “No, throw it to first,” and “Let’s see a little effort out there.” Neutral comments consisted of remarks of an impartial nature, like “Do you need a drink?” and “What is the score?” Frequency analysis also revealed that most of the specific type of comments were reinforcing (766, 31.3%), correcting (686, 28.1%), and hustle (500, 20.4%). Table 1 presents the full results for the specific type of comment and more examples of comments.
Target of Comments
The categories for the target of parents’ comments were opposing team, athlete on their team, fan, other parent, other child (non-athlete), self, official, coach, and their team in general. Frequency analysis revealed that most of the comments were directed at an athlete on their team (1149, 47.0%) or their team in general (755, 30.9%). Table 2 presents full results for the target of parents’ comments.
Events during Comments
The events during comments were categorized in the following four areas:
With respect to “Ball,” frequency analysis revealed that 2120 (86.7%) comments were made while the ball was in play, and 325 (13.3%) comments were made when the ball was out of play. Frequency analysis showed that an overwhelming majority of parents’ comments were made during play of the game (2355, 96.3%). Table 3 presents the full results for time of events during comment. Frequency analysis revealed that 1267 (51.8%) of the parents’ comments were made while their team was winning, 687 (28.1%) while their team was losing, and 215 (8.8%) when the game was tied. With regard to “Other Event,” frequency analysis showed that 178 comments were made when a player scored, 53 comments were made after an official’s call, 29 comments were made following an injury, 10 comments were made during an act of violence, 7 comments were made during a penalty, and 1 comment was made following an accident.
Mothers’ versus Fathers’ Comments
Chi square analyses were used to explore the differences between the sex of the parent and the disposition of the comment and between the sex of the parent and the specific type of comment. There was no significant difference between the sex of the parent and the disposition of the comment; c 2 (2, N = 2444) = 3.53, p > .01. Therefore, the disposition of Moms’ versus Dads’ comments did not differ in frequency of occurrence. There was also no significant difference between the sex of the parent and the specific type of comment; c2 (13, N = 2444) = 24.69, p > .01. Moms and dads did not differ in the frequency of their specific type of comments.
Comments at Boys’ and Girls’ Events
Chi square analysis of the data revealed there were significant differences between comments made at boys’ and girls’ events for both the disposition and the specific type of comment. There was a significant difference between the sex of athlete and the disposition of the comment; c 2 (2, N = 2444) = 27.42, p < .01. There were more positive comments during girls’ events (55.4% girls, 48.1% boys). The percentages of negative comments (32%) were similar at both boys’ and girls’ events. There were more neutral comments at boys’ events (19.8% boys, 12.4% girls). Table 4 presents crosstabulation for the disposition of comment. There was also a significant difference between the sex of the athlete and the specific type of comment; c2 (13, N=2444) = 58.95, p < .01. There were more hustle comments at girls’ events (24.1% girls, 16.7% boys) and more social comments at boys’ events (6.5% boys, 3.1% girls). Table 5 presents crosstabulation for the specific type of comment.
Adults serve as models of appropriate behaviors, evaluators for self-worth (DeFrancesco & Johnson, 1997), and motivators for physical activity choices (Welk, Wood, & Morss, 2003). Children have also reported feeling that their on-field performance influences their standing with their parents (Hirschhorn & Loughead, 2000). Parents, as spectators, have a “unique potential to influence this environment” (Randall & MaKenzie, 1987, p. 201) and are not often accurately aware of their behaviors (Kanters, Bocarro, & Casper, 2008). Therefore, it is important to understand the behaviors of parents at the sideline of youth sporting events.
In exploring the nature of parent comments, the researchers found that 52% of the time parents’ comments were positive. This is a similar finding to Kidman et al. (1999), who recorded positive parent comments 47.2% of the time. At first glance, this finding may seem to be an optimistic result, but upon further review it is not so encouraging. First, parents were found to be negative 1/3 of the time, which is comparable to Kidman et al., who found 34.5% of the comments to be negative. The overall ratio of positive to negative to neutral comments was approximately 4:3:2, which demonstrates a higher ratio of negative comments than recommended by pedagogists (Randall, 1992). Negative feedback has been shown to be a source of stress for children involved in physical activity (Puente-Diaz & Anshel, 2005; Viciana, Cervello, and Ramirez-Lechuga, 2007). Youth tennis players reported that “receiving negative comments and body language from others” (p.441) was the most stressful of situations (Puente-Diaz & Anshel). Parents are not spending enough time communicating positively to their children during sporting events to assist in creating a supportive environment.
Secondly, in examining the specific type of comment under the umbrella, positive and negative categories, researchers found that the two most frequent types were reinforcing and correcting, 31.3% and 28.1% respectively. While reinforcing is a positive parental behavior, correcting or instructing a child during a sporting event is debatably an undesirable behavior.
Instructional comments can serve as verbal cues that can be helpful to athletes when learning new skills. However, several factors must be taken into consideration when determining if the verbal cues provided by spectators are actually helpful. In the recreational youth sport setting, most athletes are in the first stage of learning, often referred to as the cognitive or mental stage (Fitts & Posner, 1967). In this stage, athletes are focusing on learning the idea of the movement (Gentile, 1987). Because the skill is not automatic, athletes must dedicate great cognitive energy when performing new skills (Fitts & Posner). Another factor to consider is the athlete’s developmental level. Children’s attention spans are limited, their verbal and comprehension skills are minimal, and they have limited information-processing capabilities (Singer, 1982), so they can only process a limited number of cues at one time. They need a limited number of simple cues that are relevant to their skill level (Singer). When receiving multiple cues from several adults, children may become confused and distracted. If athletes receive this information while focusing on performing a new skill, which is what happens during competitions, their level of frustration and confusion may be multiplied. The children may then feel a perception of failure, resulting in a loss of motivation and enjoyment (Singer). Adults must be cognizant of their timing, frequency, and nature of verbal cues and feedback offered to participants if they want to create an effective and pleasant learning environment. Typically, these comments represent “over-involved,” intrusive spectator behavior (Randall & McKenzie, 1987), that demonstrates a role conflict between being a parent and a coach (Citizenship through Sports Alliance, 2005; Smoll & Cumming, 2006).
It has been hypothesized that there is a linear relationship between the frequency of negative sideline comments and the competitive level of the sport (Walley et al., 1982). Parents report a higher tendency to focus (i.e. comment) on negative performances of their children and their children’s teammates when the outcome of the game is emphasized (Hennessey & Schwartz, 2007). This emphasis on winning has been shown to trickle down to the athletes, especially when they are also receiving negative feedback (Viciana et al., 2007). The observed events were only recreational in nature (i.e. limited travel or costs to the families), so the findings in this study may be less severe than findings from a study at more competitive events. On the other hand, researchers may want to inform parents that research shows that the parents who express a moderate level (verses high levels) of pressure and instruction had children with the more sport enthusiasm (Power & Woolger, 1994). When adults give positive feedback on athletic performance, children have higher levels of enjoyment and focus more on learning and developing (Viciana et al.). Koka and Hein (2003) found that positive feedback also enhances intrinsic motivation.
In examining the target of the comments, the researchers found that coaches and officials were addressed less than 1.5% of the time. This is an encouraging finding and opposite of popular opinion, as it shows that there was minimal interaction with these parties. This finding may be explained by the nominal cost and recreational focus of the events observed, so the focus is not on the outcome. When there is an emphasis on winning, arousal levels are higher, which increases anger that can lead to verbal outbursts (Isberg, 2000), but because these events were recreational with the focus on participation, arousal may not have been high. Comments towards officials are typically made when spectators become vengeful, because they perceive that an infraction or injustice has been committed towards them (Stuckless & Goranson, 1992). At the recreational level, officials have a very limited role because the games have a slower pace and a less physical nature than more competitive levels. They spend more time enforcing basic rules and spend less time on judgment calls that may influence the game. This minor role may have reduced spectators’ feelings of perceived injustice and official impactfulness. Parents spent most of the time, 77.9%, addressing either their child’s team or their individual child.
As for the events that were occurring while comments were made, the most common time to make a comment was while the ball was in play, which is understandable because the majority of the observation took place during actual play. During the breaks in action, the athletes were usually sitting on the bench, on the opposite side of the parents, so it was more challenging to speak to the children at this time. Furthermore, research has shown that events, especially momentous events bring about action or comments (Smisson, Burke, Joyner, Munkasy, & Blom, 2007), so one would expect that there would be more to discuss while the ball was in play. However, although it may be helpful for adults to make positive comments while the ball is in play, it is not a helpful to offer corrective comments during this time (Annett, 1959). It has been witnessed in other studies that children will actually stop playing in order to hear what their parents are saying to them (Kidman et al., 1999). Coaches and physical education teachers are instructed to teach during stoppage times in order to promote learning and comprehension of the material (Magill, 1998; Singer, 1982); this information may want to be disseminated in parent education programs. This type of discontinuation of play does not foster real time decision-making and may impede in the child’s learning process (Annett; Buekers et al., 1992; Winstein & Schmidt, 1990). Another finding revealed that most of the comments (51.8%) were made when the child’s team was winning, which is congruent with past research (Randall & McKenzie, 1987) and appropriate for recreational levels.
Regarding boys’ verses girls’ games, parents were more verbally involved in the girls’ games. Parents averaged 1 comment every 1.6 minutes at boys’ games and 1 comment every minute at girls’ games. Furthermore, parents had a higher percentage of positive comments for the girls than they did for the boys. Sex of the athlete does seem to be an important factor in understanding how parents will respond on the sidelines. One possible explanation for this finding is that typically parents’ expectations for children’s performances are related to their satisfaction or frustration (Walley et al., 1982). Coupled with the idea that parents have lower athletic expectations for girls verses boys (Eccles, Jacobs, & Harold, 1990), there was less opportunity to be disappointed when the girls were performing. In other words, with lower expectations for girls, parents are more easily pleased during a game. There are more opportunities for girls to outperform their parents’ expectations, resulting in a positive parental reaction. This finding is significant because parents’ expectations of their children’s sport abilities have been shown to relate to the children’s beliefs and participation decisions (Fredricks & Eccles, 2005). Self-esteem, drop-out rates, sport choices, competence, and motivation can be affected through gender-role socialization (Eccles & Harold, 1991). More specifically, mothers’ perceptions have been found to influence children’s self-perceptions (Jacobs & Eccles, 1992). Therefore, further research needs to be conducted to see if parents’ sideline comments affect girls and boys differently.
One variable that was not found to be a factor in understanding the nature of parental sideline comments was the sex of the parent, as it was not related to the type of comment made. This finding is different from the opinion that fathers are more invested into sports than mothers (Babkes & Weiss, 1999; Duncan, Woodfield, Al-Nakzeeb, & Nevill, 2002), and from the research that shows that athletes perceive their mothers to be more positively supportive than their fathers (Wuerth et al., 2004). However, Stein et al. (1999) found that both mothers and fathers were similar in their involvement levels. The inconsistent results may be due to the increased role that females are now playing in sports (Turman, 2007). Fathers have been shown to be more inclined to demonstrate verbal aggression than their female counterparts at youth sporting events, but one’s level of hostility and anger were the important predictors of this behavior (Hennessy & Schwartz, 2007). Therefore, the non-significant finding in this study may be because other individual characteristics of the spectators where not addressed. Another possible explanation for this finding may be because there was a self-selection issue. The parents who were observed are all involved parents because of their attendance; the quiet or less involved parents may not often attend games, so they remove the possibility for researchers to observe them.
In light of current findings, a couple of limitations need to be addressed. The main limitation of the study involved the recording and coding aspect. It was challenging to clearly hear all comments due to the complex nature of the sporting environments. For example, basketball games have inside locations where sounds echo off the walls, and soccer and baseball/softball games are located outside where weather elements hinder the ability to hear clearly. Furthermore, because the study took place in the Deep South, at times it was challenging to understand the content of some comments due to the participants’ language accents. These obstacles influenced the interrater agreement. To reduce this potential error in future studies, it is recommended to conduct more intense observer training that allows observers to spend more time in the actual setting before beginning data collection.
Information about the nature of parental comments has implications for several groups, (i.e. researchers, sport psychology practitioners, parents, coaches) who are involved in youth sport. In understanding the type, timing, and target of parental sideline comments, researchers can more thoroughly understand the parent-athlete dyad. For example, the curvilinear relationship that exists between parent sport involvement and children’s experience of sport stress (Hansell, 1982; Stein et al., 1999) may be a model that fits for children’s preferences for specific areas of involvement like sideline behaviors. This information can also help researchers understand the effects of spectator behavior on children’s moral reasoning and aggressive “on the field” acts. Researchers also need empirical evidence on parental sporting behavior so that theories of spectator aggression at professional sporting events can be tested and new theories can be developed (Hennessy & Schwartz, 2007).
As researchers further understand parental sport behavior, sport psychology practitioners can use the information to identify ideal parent sideline behavior and more clearly define best practices. They can help parents become aware of their sideline behaviors. Then they can develop curriculum for parent education programs, which have been found to changes coaches’ behaviors (Smith & Smoll, 1997). Preventative techniques can also be implemented to deter or reduce negative occurrences.
Parents can benefit from this information through empirically developed educational programming. For example, parents can be encouraged to assess their own behaviors through self-reflection and communication with their children. Self-awareness is the first step to changing a behavior, and many parents may not be aware of their behaviors. They can also be taught to talk with their children about their perceptions of and preferences for sideline behavior, because the parent-child agreement influences that child’s sport experience (Kanters et al.,2008). This method of education may be more helpful than a seminar from an expert. Within this educational programming, parents should also be taught about the consequences derived from inappropriate use of correcting comments.
The implications for coaches are more indirect in nature. Parent research can assist coaches in understanding how parents are actually behaving and help them learn how to educate parents about ideal sideline behaviors. These implications can extend to league administrators who may want to gather information about the parents’ behaviors in their leagues. This would foster support for education programming and aid in creating a more positive sport environment. Hopefully, as more parents receive education, coaches will have more pleasant experiences as well.
In conclusion, researchers, parents, coaches, and youth sport administrators want to work together to make sport as fun and rewarding for children as possible (Walley et al., 1982). However, if 28% of parents’ sideline comments are correcting in nature, this positive environment is not being created, because this type of comment is not always beneficial. In other words, if correcting comments are not accurate in content and appropriately timed, children who are the targets of these comments may actually experience delays in skill acquisition and tactical growth (Arnett, 1959; Buekers et al., 1992; Winstein & Schmidt, 1990). Therefore, further research needs to be conducted to examine the effects of various types of comments and more concretely determine the sport, parent, and athlete characteristics that influence the nature of comments, so that interventions can be applicably developed and implemented. Until there is conclusive evidence on what types of comments have a positive or negative effect, researchers may want to only examine the specific type of comment rather than grouping them into generic categories.
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Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Lindsey C. Blom, Ed.D., School of Human Performance and Recreation, The University of Southern University, P.O. Box 5142, Hattiesburg, MS 39406, Phone: 601.266.6085, Fax: 601.266.4445, e-mail: Lindsey.email@example.com