Just Let Them Play: Why Parents Should Stay Out of Youth Sports

When I started working on the management side of youth sports I quickly adopted a saying,

Kids just want to play, and parents ruin everything.

Anyone who work is in youth sports understands this statement, and probably gives a little chuckle as they read it.  This is because their mind goes directly to one of the many situations that they have been through where this statement holds true.

The perfect example of this is an experiment that has been replicated numerous times.  The experiment goes like this:

The Setup

There is a group a children out on a field.  In scenario 1 a ball is introduced and there are no parents around.  In scenario 2 the ball is introduced and there are parents present.  Below are what the outcome are:

Outcome 1  

  • The players then make goals, split into teams, and start playing a game.  
  • If the score becomes too uneven then the players rearrange the teams to make them more fair.  
  • The players then play for hours without interruption.

Outcome 2

  • A parent is present.
  • The parent tries to control the scene.
  • The players stop playing.

Unfortunately for today's youth scenario 2 has become the norm.  It is very rare that players are left alone to simply play.  Parents always try to interject and control the scene to assure that there is organization and no conflict.  If players get out of line then the parent will discipline them.  The problem with this is that children do not learn how to handle these situations because the parent is always handling it for them.  Many of the conflicts that arise during a sports game are the exact conflicts that will arise in many other aspects of their life off the field.  

When parents try to handle each conflict for their children they think they are helping them.  The reality is that they are failing to prepare them for the real world and hindering their social development.